Wales v New Zealand
All Blacks' cavalry returns to put Dragons to sword
Will Macpherson
November 20, 2014
New Zealand's Richie McCaw finds himself in the press spotlight, Hilton Hotel, Cardiff, November 19
Richie McCaw captains the All Blacks for the 100th occasion on Saturday © Getty Images

Few stats irk Welshmen more than their recent record against New Zealand. They're not like the Scots or the Irish, who've never beaten the All Blacks, but they haven't managed it for some time: 61 years and 25 games, to be exact. They are desperate to break the hoodoo.

The belief is that you need at least three tries to beat the All Blacks. In light of this, Warren Gatland's selection is interesting. There's firepower, plenty of it, in George North, Alex Cuthbert and Jamie Roberts, but he's left out his form back, Liam Williams in favour of the more prosaic but oh-so-reliable Leigh Halfpenny. Williams apparently picked up a slight knock in his man-of-the-match display against Fiji but surely Gatland must have been tempted to throw him in against the All Blacks.

Team News

  • Wales: Warren Gatland has all but reverted to the team that lost to Australia on the first weekend of the series. Leigh Halfpenny is back at 15, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb at half-back, while Jonathan Davies starts at 13 after a shoulder injury. Liam Williams is unlucky to miss out but has a slight knock. Dan Lydiate pips Justin Tipuric on the flank and Paul James returns at prop in place of Gethin Jenkins, who was not considered due to injury. Richard Hibbard returns at hooker.
  • New Zealand: As ever these days, the intrigue surrounding Steve Hansen's selection centred on the No.10 jersey. With four viable candidates, Beauden Barrett gets the nod. The team is much-changed from the one that squeezed past Scotland, with Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith - fresh from a partner giving birth and trip to New Zealand respectively - reunited at centre. Ben Smith is back at 15, Julian Savea on the wing and star locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick return, the latter after nursing a knock.

Up front, the return of Richard Hibbard is a huge boost, even if he and the management had a minor tiff earlier in the week about his appearance for Gloucester last Friday. One senses that Gatland's key forwards - Hibbard, Alun-Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton - have to be at their absolute destructive best if they're to take anything from this game.

And what a moment it would be to take something from one of these games against southern opposition. It's not just the All Blacks who've got the jinx over them but Australia and South Africa, too. It's staggering that a team who've been so successful on the European stage can have blown so many chances against opponents from further afield. With a World Cup just round the corner, that must end.

The All Blacks second string were run close in Edinburgh last week, but the cavalry are back now. Don't expect an upset with them in town.

In form

New Zealand, inevitably, have two nominees for the IRB World Player of the Year in their ranks, in Brodie Retallick and Julian Savea. What's worse for the Welsh is that neither started last weekend so they will be well rested and hungry. And there's plenty of quality besides. Keep an eye on Ben Smith. He is a wonderful player likely to be at the heart of the All Blacks' attacking intentions, and the Millennium track is normally full of tries, especially under the roof.

Wales were really poor against the Fijians, especially against 14 men. If they play like that again, we could be looking at a cricket score. But there's so much quality in this side that their poor run against the southern giants is utterly confusing. The selection of Jonathan Davies is a risk, considering his shoulder injury, but reuniting Davies and Jamie Roberts proved too tricky to resist for Gatland.

Out of form

You don't often say this about players of the pedigree of Leigh Halfpenny or Dan Lydiate, but both have a point to prove. Not particularly because they're playing poorly, but because of the men breathing down their necks. Liam Williams was quite brilliant against Fiji last week amid an awful Wales performance, making 207 metres and beating 11 defenders on 20 runs. Likewise, Lydiate has to contend with Justin Tipuric. It wouldn't take much for Warburton to switch to 6 to accommodate Europe's most naturally gifted openside. Lydiate will be well aware of this.

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The All Blacks don't have many problem positions, but hooker is one of them. Keven Mealamu is old, Corey Flynn is in France and Nathan Harris and James Parsons aren't quite ready yet. Dane Coles is a fine incumbent, but he's pretty much the only Kiwi in this line-up who still has a point to prove. He's an excellent rake but has proved a touch hot-headed and against England a fortnight ago he was sin-binned for a careless kick. His battle with Richard Hibbard should be a belter.

Key Battle

It's hard to look beyond the battle of the men at seven: Richie McCaw and Sam Warburton. Both are captaining, of course, and both are celebrating milestones. While Warburton took a rest last week, McCaw put in an uncharacteristically mixed performance against Scotland, throwing an intercept pass and not imposing himself on the game in his usual fashion. That said, if he plays like he did in the second half at Twickenham, where he almost single-handedly hauled the 14-man All Blacks back into the game against England, even the best struggle to live with him. Warburton will need to be on tip-top form if the breakdown is to be a competitive battle.


  • McCaw becomes the first man to captain his country in 100 Tests, while Warburton plays his 50th Test, although two of those came for the Lions.
  • The All Blacks and Wales have played 29 Tests since 1905, with the All Blacks winning 26 matches and the Welsh claiming three. The latest test was in Cardiff in November 2012, when the All Blacks won 33-10.


The bookies fancy New Zealand, as ever. You can get the All Blacks at 1-10 and Wales at 5-1.


New Zealand by 15

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