After a defeat to Australia and a slender victory against Georgia so far in this Autumn Series, Wales have next up the World Champions, the outstanding All Blacks. Wales are seeking a modern approach of playing style and are working on different partnerships, and next up is the biggest test in international rugby. All very troubling for Welsh fans.
The statistics of contests between the two sides make for damning reading. Played each other 33 occasions, New Zealand with 30 victories. Wales achieved their wins in 1905, 1935 and 1953. Since their last triumph in 1953, Wales have been defeated by New Zealand 29 consecutive times including some huge margins in victories. As a Welshman, I am seeking to put a positive angle on this and all I can say is they are human, its fifteen men against fifteen men. Ireland beat them last year and last weekend Scotland gave them an undeniable test match and pushed them hard. We have to take some positivity from that, and just hope Saturday is our time at last.
Last weekend New Zealand was at times looking a bit vulnerable. Stuart Hogg, in particular, generated them major troubles, with his wonderful proficiency in open play to make the first defender miss. Hogg made clean breaks a number of times with New Zealand frantically working back with their scramble defence. Hogg is a special player, arguably the best back in Britain, and an undoubtedly dangerous runner in the number 15 shirt. Unfortunately, owing to injury Wales cannot use a player who likewise can be a dangerous counter attacker as he offered last summer in New Zealand, that being Liam Williams.
New Zealand will have Luke Romano and Rieko Ioane missing due to injuries suffered last weekend. Ioane, in particular, is a big loss. The 20-year-old winger is an unnerving sight in absolute flight as other New Zealander wingers before him, such as Sitiveni Sivivatu, Joe Rokocoko, Julian Savea and the legendary Jonah Lomu, and is in excellent form. Be interesting to learn who they replace Ioane with, will they bring in Anton Lienert-Brown who is more of a centre, or go with a recognised winger such as David Havili. In terms of the omission of Romano, then either Patrick Tuipulotu or Scott Barrett will come into his place, both talented players in their own right. Reports from the New Zealand camp indicates that the players and the coaching staff were not happy with their performance last weekend against Scotland, and are seeking for a sharper, much-improved performance this weekend in Cardiff….. Ominous.
Wales last weekend made a number of changes for the game against Georgia and emerged with a narrow win. Going now into this weekend, I am worried that we will have a number of combinations who are yet untried at international level, and if there are missed communication, or positioning slightly astray, New Zealand will punish them.
I am not going to write about the conclusion of the Georgia game and the non-contested scrums, but I would like to comment something which due to the closure of the game was not indeed discussed. I sought to grasp the decision to bring on Taulupe Faletau for Adam Beard with around 5 minutes to go? Unless I am incorrect, Beard did not look injured, so I was scratching my head that a key player for Wales and the only out and out number 8 we have, was exposed to 5 minutes at the end of the game? If he had picked up an injury as Jonathan Davies did in the last play against Australia, then Wales could have been going into a considerably higher profile test match than Georgia without one of our genuine world class players, why take the risk? Faletau did not have for him a great game against Australia, but we appreciate that was a blip, he rarely has one bad game let alone back to back matches. Appreciate injuries can happen at any time, but why make the risk greater by bringing him on at that moment? Unless as I say Beard was injured, I found it puzzling.
Wales as it goes without saying face a tremendous test this Saturday against a side unhappy with their last outing. At times, Wales in my view, have tried to overstate this new wider attacking style, sending long mispasses when going through the hands of the players outside them would have fixed the defenders rather than just opposing players just sliding across the pitch. We need to straighten up more, make them tackle, so committing defenders, getting them on the floor and then look at spaces, if the numbers are in our favour. A player who absolutely would keep defenders honest would be Jamie Roberts who is back in the set up due to the injury to Jonathan Davies, with reduced sources, players out of form and untried combinations could a return to the global stage occur? In my view, with all the dialogue about the Welsh back plays evolving going back to Roberts in the centre, Warren Gatland and his coaching staff may feel this is not the policy they choose to go. Personally, I would not have an issue with it.
Anyhow, with the current news being that Justin Tipuric will be available but looks too soon for Samson Lee to be ready, this would be my matchday 23 to take on New Zealand. I am really concerned about the back three and centre positions in particular. The speed and physicality New Zealand have would mean I would bring in at fullback a player not used at all yet in Rhys Patchell. He has played 15, he is big, strong and decent defensively, he has a good turn of pace and a strong kicking game. When we are in possession, he is a player who is comfortable right across the three-quarter line. Bringing Patchell in allows Halfpenny a very dependable defender to move out to the wing. Playing young and untried wingers who have defensive frailties in Steff Evans and Hallam Amos does concern me against strike runners such as Waisake Naholo and intelligent footballers who will play on any deficiencies in defence such as Sonny Bill Williams, Damian McKenzie and in particular, Beauden Barrett.
Anyhow, this is my side.
15. Rhys Patchell
14. Leigh Halfpenny
13. Owen Watkin
12. Owen Williams
11. Steff Evans
10. Rhys Priestland
9. Rhys Webb
1. Rob Evans
2. Ken Owens
3. Tomas Francis
4. Jake Ball
5. Alun Wyn Jones
6. Dan Lydiate
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Taulupe Faletau
Hallam Amos, Jamie Roberts, Gareth Davies, Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi
Score Prediction: Wales 19 New Zealand 46
Do you agree with my selections and score prediction? What are your thoughts on the Welsh chances? Let us know.
Feature Picture Credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk