Wales v New Zealand, Millennium Stadium, November 7
The time for talking is over
November 5, 2009
Mils Muliaina makes some hard yards during last year's showdown © Getty Images
Wales are beginning to run out of excuses, having long ago run out of patience with their 20-Test losing run against the All Blacks.
Not so much of a 'bogey team' in Welsh eyes but an unbeatable behemoth, the go-to word for Wales this week has been belief as they prepare to take on New Zealand once again at the Millennium Stadium.
The great Bleddyn Williams led Wales to their last victory over the tourists, in 1953. At that time, the Welsh had a favourable record of three wins and a loss against the All Blacks but there have been few occasions since when the men in red have put up a genuine fight.
Last season's 29-9 loss was preceded by unbelievable drama as the haka was faced down by an unblinking Welsh line, but the end result was predictable. This year Wales do not need theatre, but results. The Millennium Stadium will be a cauldron of colour and noise so the players should be focused and ready to give everything to get the monkey off their backs.
New Zealand have endured a mixed year by their high standards and go in to the game after finishing a distant second to the Springboks in the Tri-Nations. They did, though, complete a 4-0 Bledisloe Cup whitewash over perennial rivals Australia in Tokyo last weekend and have traditionally been far too strong for their Welsh rivals.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has weighed in with his now traditional verbal barbs, insisting that the All Blacks have lost their 'aura' since he was a tourist with them during his playing days. The Kiwis have refused to take the bait, insisting, ominously for Gatland's players, that they were perfectly happy to make their retort on the pitch.
Dan Carter has been named in the starting line-up for the game after struggling with a haematoma on his right calf, but the main story concerns new cap Zac Guildford. The Hawke's Bay wing has been in devastating domestic form after starring in New Zealand's run to the Junior World Championship title. His debut will be a bittersweet occasion after his father, Robert, died in the stands following their victory over England in the final.
Guildford's debut comes at the expense of banned wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, who was punished for a late tackle on an airborne Adam Ashley-Cooper last weekend. Wyatt Crockett also wins his second cap due to a suspension, the Canterbury prop stepping in after Tony Woodcock was also censured following the Tokyo showdown.
Richie McCaw skippers the side as ever and is joined by his Canterbury team-mate Kieran Read. Read has knocked veteran Rodney So'oialo out of contention, with Adam Thomson also losing his spot to Jerome Kaino.
For Wales, all the focus ahead of the November Tests was on a mounting injury list. British & Irish Lions Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips and Adam Jones are all out for the series, with lock Ian Evans and centre Gavin Henson also unavailable.
Phillips' injury has been compounded by Sale Sharks' refusal to release Dwayne Peel for the fixture, meaning that Gareth Cooper starts in the No.9 jersey. Fly-half James Hook is handed the unfamiliar fullback role for the second time in Tests, with Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams providing the pace out wide.
The biggest surprise sprung by Gatland was the inclusion of Ospreys prop Paul James on the tight-head side. James has been called on to replace his regional team-mate Jones after a six-year absence from the international stage. His last, and only, cap came against Romania at the Racecourse Ground in 2003 and he will need to reward the coaching staff's faith in him.
Wales: James Hook; Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Gareth Cooper; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Paul James, Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Andy Powell, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones (capt)
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Duncan Jones, Bradley Davies, Dafydd Jones, Martin Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Tom James
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Zac Guildford; Dan Carter, Brendon Leonard; Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Brad Thorn, Jason Eaton, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Kieran Read
Replacements: Cory Flynn, Owen Franks, Tom Donnelly, Adam Thomson, Jimmy Cowan, Stephen Donald, Ben Smith
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (SA), Stuart Terheege (Eng)