AUCKLAND, NZ – The last test of the year for the All Blacks sees them travel to Cardiff, scene of one of their most infamous defeats in recent times. Of course, as we all know, this wasn’t to the home side but to France in the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals. To find the last time the All Blacks lost to Wales you’d need to travel back in time 61 years, to when Winston Churchill was still the British prime minister, Sean Fitzpatrick’s dad was in the visiting team and the most notable feat achieved by a New Zealander was Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mt Everest. Before we crack into this game, it’s pretty important to touch on the big issues of the week in some…
Manu Samoa has found itself in world rugby’s headlines, sadly for all the wrong reasons this time. Not long after the great news that the All Blacks will be playing in Apia next year, we hear news that the relationship between the team and those controlling Samoan rugby are so bad that they were threatening to boycott this weekend’s test against England. It’s been a badly kept secret that there are plenty with their noses in the trough when it comes to the funding for Samoa, which is incredibly sad given their massive contribution to world rugby. Hopefully this action by the players can sort out the corruption that’s holding them back from being fairly reimbursed for their efforts.
The newly renamed World Rugby (formerly the IRB) has released their nominations for try of the year (they’re probably hoping no absolute stunners get scored this weekend) and I can’t argue with any of them. My pick would have to go to Magali Harvey of Canada, who’s got your vote?
Wales and the All Blacks share a rich history dating back to 1905, indeed Wales were the only side to beat the All Black ‘Originals’ on their famous tour. However, it wasn’t without controversy, Wales led 3-0 in the second half when All Black Bob Deans was reputed to have scored near the posts. The referee, a Mr. John Dallas of Scotland, was far behind the play and Deans was allegedly pulled back into the field of play by the Welsh defenders before he could award a try. The score remained 3-0 at full time and the incident has become legendary in the history between the two teams.
The All Blacks got a controversial win of their own many years later in 1978. They found themselves trailing 12-10 with a couple of minutes to play and had a lineout just outside the Welsh 22. Andy Haden blatantly took a dive out of the lineout (that’s a flop in American terms) and a penalty was given, which was converted by replacement fullback Brian McKechnie. It’s been said that the penalty was actually awarded for Welsh lock Geoff Wheel jumping off Frank Oliver’s shoulder, but if you watch it closely it’s obvious Oliver is taking a massive dive as well. The Welsh blamed Haden and the incident has left a bitter taste in their mouths as that has been the closest they’ve ever been to beating the All Blacks since 1953.
Wales vs. All Blacks, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff #WALvNZL Kick-off: 17:30 local, 06:30 NZT
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James. Bench: 16 Scott Baldwin , 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Luke Charteris , 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.
All Blacks: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty.
The All Blacks have made a number of changes again to the side that scraped past Scotland last weekend. Back comes an almost entirely different backline, most notable for the inclusion of Beauden Barrett at first five. Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith team up again after their successful pairing against England while Ben Smith gets another run at fullback. In the pack Dane Coles will look to fix the lineout woes that have dogged them for the past two games and will be at the front of a full strength pack.
The inclusion of Barrett is noteworthy in that it has shown that the All Black selectors have essentially used this tour as a trial for all the first fives. The only problem is that so far the only one that has stuck his hand up is Colin Slade, who wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. Barrett has this test to put himself ahead of the rest because if he doesn’t it’s all going to come down to Super Rugby 2015 form. Since he plays for the Hurricanes, it’s better not to take that chance.
The All Blacks will look to move the ball wide to Julian Savea early and often to set up a very interesting match-up with George North. It’s highly unlikely that North himself will see much ball so he’d better be on defensively in this battle of the world’s two most high profile wingers. Meanwhile on the other wing Alex Cuthbert will have his hands full with Charles Piutau, who has been in impressive form of late.
The clash in the loose forwards will be very interesting, with Toby Faletau going up against Kieran Read in what will surely be a busy day for both. Expect to see a lot of offloads when the ball comes off the back of the scrum. Captain will meet captain in the number 7 jersey when Sam Warburton squares up against Richie McCaw in a showdown of two men who will have immense weight on their shoulders in next year’s World Cup.
Prediction: If there’s one thing you can set your watch to, it’s the confident predictions of Welsh players and pundits before a match with the All Blacks. Which are then quickly erased by a crushing defeat and then followed by howls of protest by the Welsh about some alleged wrongdoing by the All Blacks. Yes, Andy Haden dived out of the lineout. Yes, Andrew Hore should have been sent off. Yes, you probably should’ve made the last World Cup final (but it’s your own stupid fault because you didn’t bring any goalkickers with you). But you know what Wales? If you were half as good at playing rugby as you are at whingeing like a pack of little babies you would have a far better record against the All Blacks than three wins in 109 years. All Blacks by 20.
The final word must go to a man who is playing his 100th match as captain of the All Blacks, Richie McCaw. In a nice bit of symmetry he’s playing on the same ground where he captained the team for the first time back in 2004 against Wales. He has the record of most tests by a captain already, ahead of Brian O’Driscoll and John Smit respectively. To put his playing career into context, the All Blacks have won 401 test in their history going into this weekend. McCaw has played in 120 All Black victories, meaning that over a quarter of that all time total have featured him. He is a once-in-a-lifetime player, without him the All Blacks would not be the team they are today.
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