Wales’s match against the All Blacks this Saturday looks to be an uphill struggle following their narrow 17-13 win over a spirited Fiji side last weekend.
Unlike Scotland or Ireland, Wales have defeated New Zealand before. The trouble is, that was 61 years ago. Two years ago, the All Blacks comfortably beat Wales 33-10 in Cardiff. In fact, the last time Wales beat one of the big Southern Hemisphere nations – Australia in 2008 – Gavin Henson and Charlotte Church were still in an item.
Leigh Halfpenny returns following concussion against Australia. Jonathan Davies, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb also return from injury as part of nine changes to the side that struggled against Fiji. Both Liam Williams and Justin Tipuric, hailed as the two standouts last week, are demoted to the bench. Richard Hibbard also returns to start at hooker.
The All Blacks, led out by captain Richie McCaw for the 100th time, must have been at least a little surprised by the closeness of their 24-16 victory at Murrayfield last weekend. The recovering Dan Carter returns to the bench with 23 year old Beauden Barrett selected at fly half. Regular All Black weapons Julian Savea and Sonny Bill Williams will outside him.
New Zealand’s pack returns to full strength with seven changes from last week, including returns for Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick and Owen Franks.
Wales can beat New Zealand on Saturday but only if the ten British and Irish Lions in their starting side step up to the mark. Scotland could have taken the lead with less than ten minutes to go last week had Scottish captain Greig Laidlaw not sliced a penalty wide. Given the chance, it seems unlikely that Leigh Halfpenny would make the same mistake.