The Welsh, if not through the media then the players and coaching staff, have been baiting the New Zealanders all week. It may not have been the wisest thing to do.
The Kiwis don’t take kindly to being taunted in public and to suggest that they have “lost their aura” is tantamount to waving a red flag in front of a bull.
Of course if you are a master matador, a skilled torero that has many kills to your name, that flag may well be the distraction that lures the animal into a death trap.
The All Blacks have been careful so far not to take the bait, making it clear they plan to do their talking on the field.
All Black assistant Steve Hansen has noticed the excitement that has been building up as the Welsh continue to talk a big game.
“I’m sure the players are excited about playing the All Blacks – they always are. Just reading the paper, they’re obviously pretty confident about it,” Hansen said.
“We can only go by last year’s performance when they chucked everything at us and it was a tough, tough game of footy. We expect the same thing.”
All Black coach Graham Henry has dismissed the notion that he is disrespectful to the Welsh, but conceded that he is using the tour to experiment with his selections.
Henry said he is looking to see which players in his 33-man squad can make the grade in time for the 2011 World Cup.
“We need to know if all these players are up to international standard,” Henry said.
“We are using this game to address one or two of those question marks. It’s a big game.
“We’ve got a policy for the tour. To enjoy the game and play well is one, and also to make sure 33 players on this tour get an opportunity to play.”
With this in mind, the former Wales coach has made six changes to the team that beat the Wallabies 32-19 in Tokyo last week. He may have to make a seventh if flyhalf Dan Carter fails to recover from a calf injury.
Henry drafted in Zac Guildford for his debut on the wing to replace the suspended Sitiveni Sivivatu, while Wyatt Crockett comes in for prop Tony Woodcock – who is also banned for elbowing Australia’s George Smith.
And the All Blacks, who have not lost in 20 tests against Wales since 1953, made another three changes to the pack.
Lock Jason Eaton, No.8 Kieran Read and flank Jerome Kaino, who touched down in last year’s 29-9 win over Wales, replace Tom Donnelly, Rodney So’oialo and Adam Thomson.
Brendan Leonard comes in for Jimmy Cowan at scrumhalf.
“It is good to be back here again,” Henry said. “We’ve selected a strong side and we are looking forward to the fixture.
“There is no disrespect to Wales: it’s a very strong side.”
With just two years to go before New Zealand hosts the World Cup, Henry is under pressure to build a side capable of reclaiming the Tri-Nations title and winning the Web Ellis trophy for the first time since 1987.
But Wales is just the sort of team to take advantage of any weakness in a squad tired from a long season of Super 14 and Tri-Nations rugby.
Wales led 9-6 at halftime last year before conceding 20 unanswered points in the second period.
“Holding them at half-time was a good achievement,” said Gareth Cooper, who comes in at scrumhalf because Mike Phillips is injured and Dwayne Peel has not been released by his club.
“But we realize on this occasion if we are going to get a result we have to play for 80 minutes.
“We have won two Grand Slams and beaten Australia a couple of times in recent years, so we know that we are good enough.”
Players to watch:
For Wales: Wing Leigh Halfpenny was one of the players who challenged the Kiwis in public, he will have to stand up and deliver. It is always worth watch diminutive Shane Williams, a master stepper and a bundle of energy. The captaincy of Ryan Jones will be key, as he will need to keep his charges calm and focussed against an All Black team know to squeeze the life out of any opposition.
For New Zealand: There is the emotional debut for young Zac Guildford, the reshuffled loose trio of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino, along with the inclusion of Jason Eaton, that will be in the spotlight.
Head to head: They are two very exciting youngsters, both with oodles of talent, so lets hope Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) and Zac Guildford (New Zealand) get plenty of opportunities with the ball in hand. Wales have the more settled loose forward combination of Ryan Jones, Martyn Williams and Andy Powell, up against Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino. The breakdown will play a huge role in the final analyses.
2008: New Zealand won 29-9, Cardiff
2006: New Zealand won 45-10, Cardiff
2005: New Zealand won 41-3, Cardiff
2004: New Zealand won 26-25, Cardiff
2003: New Zealand won 53-37, Sydney (World Cup)
2003: New Zealand won 55-3, Hamilton
2002: New Zealand won 43-17, Cardiff
1997: New Zealand won 42-7, London
1995: New Zealand won 34-9, Johannesburg (World Cup)
1989: New Zealand won 34-9, Cardiff
rugby365 Prediction: Despite the changes and Graham Henry’s experiments, the All Blacks simply look too classy for a Welsh team that will no doubt give them a big scare before falling off the pace late in the game. New Zealand to win by 10 to 15 points.
Wales: 15 James Hook, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Ryan Jones (captain), 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Andy Powell, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Paul James, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Dafydd Jones, 20 Martin Roberts, 21 Jonathan Davies, 21 Tom James
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Ben Smith.
Date: Saturday, November 7
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17.30 (17.30 GMT, 06.30 NZ Time – Sunday, November 8)
Expected weather conditions: Light rain showers. Maximum 10°C. The weather could be negate if the stadium roof is closed.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)