Saturday 10 December 2016

Welsh vow to take risks against Kiwis

Gavin Mairs

Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30

Wales have never won in New Zealand, they have lost their last 26 matches against the All Blacks. Picture Credit: Reuters
Wales have never won in New Zealand, they have lost their last 26 matches against the All Blacks. Picture Credit: Reuters

it is impossible to avoid the stark statistics. Wales have never won in New Zealand, they have lost their last 26 matches against the All Blacks and New Zealand have not lost at Eden Park since 1994, winning 35 consecutive Tests there.

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They all indicate that there is little point in Wales turning up in Auckland tomorrow morning, especially as they were so poor in defeat by England at Twickenham a fortnight ago.

But there is always hope. New Zealand have lost a ledger of legends, and are traditionally slow in beginning their Test season. It might mean that they are much more conservative than usual.

"My understanding of New Zealand rugby is that this week they will concentrate on the basics, do them accurately, not be afraid to play a bit of territory, and put us under pressure to see if we make mistakes," said Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

And, in contrast, Gatland is urging his charges to release their shackles. It has been his plan throughout this year, even if so far his players have looked thoroughly uncomfortable in doing so.

"The message to our players is to be bold, be smart in the way we play and don't be scared to try things," he added. "If it's a pass out of the back of the hand or round the back, then try it.

"The challenge for us is to match them physically up front. When opportunities arise, we have to take risks and play expansive rugby."

Gatland was always likely to recall captain Sam Warburton and centre Jonathan Davies, but the choices of prop Gethin Jenkins, hooker Ken Owens and lock Bradley Davies were less predictable.

"We are expecting a really tough contest at the breakdown, but we are not targeting that area," said Gatland. "With our loose forwards and Gethin Jenkins we feel we can pose a threat, but it was more about picking experience so we can hopefully be really competitive against the world champions.

"We've got experience coming back into the team with Gethin, Ken Owens, Bradley Davies and Jonathan Davies."

New Zealand are making light of the loss of the likes of McCaw and Dan Carter. Steve Hansen's side was fairly expected with Aaron Cruden at fly-half, a new centre pairing of Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa, and Sam Cane at open-side.

Sam Whitelock is a notable injury absentee at lock.

Telegraph.co.uk

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