21 Nov

Wales v All Blacks – Game Preview
by Tracey Nelson
21 Nov 2008

It has been 12 months since the All Blacks last played at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, where they bowed out in the RWC quarter final to France last year. Despite claims to the contrary, you would have to imagine there will still be a few lingering ghosts in the minds of the players who played in that game – ghosts they will be looking to exorcise as they take on Wales this weekend in the third test of their Grand Slam tour.

After watching the mistake-ridden game by the mid-week All Black side against Munster on Wednesday, the test side will be under no doubts as to the in-your-face greeting they are likely to receive from the Welsh side. Munster showed that if you can get up on the All Blacks and hassle them around the fringes (not unlike the way France did in that infamous quarter final game) they can be pressured into mistakes and making play behind the gain-line. Regardless of whether or not Munster (and France, it must be said) were pushing the offside line at times around the rucks, it was apparent that the mid-week side had not learnt the lessons of how to counter this, and instead allowed halfback Piri Weepu to be battered and pressured. This had a flow-on effect to the backline, where Stephen Donald had a wretched game and put his backs under no end of strain with passes going anywhere but to hand and a series of miserable chip kicks that were easily read by the opposition.

Any side worth its salt will have noted that this current All Black side does not cope well against rush defence, something the Springboks have employed successfully at times over the past couple of years. Wales, under Kiwi coach Warren Gatland – himself a strong proponent of rush defence when he coached Waikato – will no doubt look to use this tactic against the All Blacks. Indeed, the All Blacks are so wary of this that assistant coach Wayne Smith has been sounding out Ian Foster and Shane Howarth back in New Zealand to get tips as to the weaknesses around a rush defence and the ways to counter it.

But it’s not just the Welsh defence that the All Blacks will have to combat. Gatland has named his strongest side for this test, with his captain Ryan Jones shifting to blindside to allow the impressive Andy Powell to start at No 8. In Powell the Welsh have a No 8 who plays very much in the southern hemisphere style with his powerful running and ability to offload making him a key weapon for his side. Wales also boast the try scoring pocket-rocket winger Shane Williams who has made many a defending side look like chumps, and given this Welsh side aren’t afrraid to chance their arm on attack (much in the way of the All Blacks) there is potential that this game could be a feast of running play.

The All Blacks have made two changes to the team that started against Ireland, both of them injury-enforced although one does wonder if Richard Kahui would have made the side this week regardless. Kahui comes in at centre for Conrad Smith, while on the bench Hikawera Elliot comes in to cover hooker after Corey Flynn’s departure from the tour with a broken arm. However, this is still the strongest side that New Zealand can field and is acknowledgement of the likely danger this Welsh side could be to completing the Grand Slam.

What the All Blacks will need to do this weekend is three-fold:

  • They will need to counter the Welsh rush-defence by ensuring that their backline is operating on the front foot – this will require the All Black pack to maintain good support to the ball carrier, hit rucks in numbers and provide pillars to protect halfback Jimmy Cowan.
  • They will need to be accurate, something that has been lacking at times on this tour both when it comes to passing infront of the player, running straight instead of laterally, and giving the pass when it’s on to do so. Too many times on this tour the All Blacks have taken the ball into contact and turned possession over, when a simple pass to the man outside would have resulted in a try. There have also been far too many knock-ons for a side of this experience and quality.
  • Finally, they will need to be disciplined. The All Blacks have been coming out on the wrong side of the penalty ledger in recent test matches, so it’s a case of not allowing rushes of blood to the head and listening to the referee when he calls that a tackle has turned into a ruck.

If they can do these three things then shutting down the Welsh crowd in the impressive Millenium Stadium will be straightforward. However, give the Welsh a sniff of victory then we may well see Cardiff remain a stumbling block in yet another All Black campaign.

ALL BLACKS: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan; 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 John Afoa, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Isaia Toeava.

WALES: Lee Byrne, Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, Stephen Jones, Gareth Cooper; Andy Powell, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones (captain), Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Matthew Rees, Gethin Jenkins. Reserves: Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Luke Charteris, Dafydd Jones, Dwayne Peel, James Hook/Dan Biggar, Andrew Bishop.

REFEREE: Jonathan Kaplan, South Africa

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