Wales v New Zealand
Jones hoping for lucky seventh
November 17, 2008
Jones in action during the narrow defeat to South Africa earlier this month © Getty Images
Wales star Stephen Jones is braced for his seventh attempt to beat the mighty All Blacks - but admits: "It's a big 'ask'".
Jones is a clear favourite to wear the number 10 shirt on Saturday, especially because his principal fly-half rival James Hook has been given only a 50-50 chance of recovering in time from knee tendon trouble. He can only hope the tide will turn - given a personal record against New Zealand of played six, lost six and an average scoreline of All Blacks 44 Wales 16.
Jones was captain the last time Wales met New Zealand in Cardiff two years ago, when the game - and result - followed a predictable pattern. But the 30-year-old can also take heart from two occasions in recent Test history when Wales almost bucked the trend. He said: "All the games have been tough encounters, as you would expect, but some memorable ones as well.
"I enjoyed the 2003 World Cup match in Sydney (Wales lost 53-37 but scored four tries). That was a great game of rugby, and the first time everything we'd worked on had come into line. The game at the Millennium Stadium four years ago, when we were beaten 26-25, was frustrating - but at least it showed we were there.
"When you play the best teams in the world, you've got to have self-belief and back yourself. You know you are going to get bumped and bruised, but it's about staying focused and making sure you implement your role that the coaches want. You cannot get distracted from that. It's how you perform on the pitch - that is all that counts."
New Zealand are halfway towards completing another successful grand slam tour, having comfortably defeated Scotland and Ireland without conceding a try. It is 55 years since Wales last toppled them - a run of 19 successive defeats that has contributed towards the RBS 6 Nations champions' status as rank outsiders this weekend. Jones added: "They've got a great passing and kicking game, so from a defensive point of view they pose a threat in every aspect.
"They are very good in the contact area, and in the tackle the collisions are very physical. That is where you have to match them and compete with them. It is about performing and winning. We didn't do that against South Africa (nine days ago), and it is a big 'ask' for us on Saturday. But provided we meet our targets and objectives, it should be a good game. New Zealand are a very clever team, but we need to control what we can control.
"New Zealand have got a lot of pace throughout the side, so if you are not sharp defensively they cut you. Once they cut you, they have the ability to score straightaway and not go through another phase because they've got plenty of 'gas' in their side. We've also got to be smart when we've got the ball. We can't just turn the ball over and allow them to keep on throwing everything at us, because eventually they will break you down.
"We have to ask questions of them - that's the way you have to play."
Jones is also set to renew his rivalry with genial All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter, who has scored 73 points in four appearances against Wales - 32 more than Wales' total output during those Tests. Jones said: "Dan Carter is a fantastic player and he deserves all the praise and credit he gets. As a player, you enjoy playing against the best - and he's certainly the best. It's great.
"I just saw that statistic of him scoring 73 points. But it is not just his goalkicking - his general all-round play has contributed to the team's success against us. I am fully aware of the history with Wales and New Zealand. But the players just think about what they can effect, what they can control on the rugby side of things.
"The working week is quite intensive. You've got your homework to do and your preparation to do, so it distracts you from the statistics in a way."
Wales boss Warren Gatland will name his team tomorrow - and it could be unchanged from the side beaten 20-15 by the Springboks. Dwayne Peel is exerting pressure on scrum-half incumbent Gareth Cooper. But switches are more likely among the replacements, where 19-year-old Dan Biggar looks set to feature.
Hook, meanwhile, limped off during Wales' 34-13 victory over Canada last Friday night and is battling to regain full fitness in time for the All Blacks. Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards said: "His treatment is on-going, and I am pretty sure we will have to make a decision on Tuesday to give him as long as possible to make selection. I suppose it's 50-50 - but I am not a physio."
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