Wales showed glimpses last week in Dunedin that they can compete against New Zealand, but they will need to deliver a full 80-minute performance in Hamilton this coming Saturday should they wish to reverse a 57-year losing streak against the Men in Black.
The Welsh tore into the Kiwis from the word go last weekend, taking a well-deserved 6-0 lead before finding themselves on the wrong end of a 9-42 scoreline some seventy minutes later.
Wales’s big downfall last week was their inability to maintain that early-match determination and intensity for the full 80 minutes and, of course, there was the small matter of an in-form Daniel Carter to worry about too.
Carter – who has been in ‘bad’ form this season, or at least by his lofty standards – scored 27 points in last week’s demolition, a key scoring sequence between the 51st and 72nd minutes knocking the stuffing out of the 2008 Six Nations champions.
The key to Carter’s showing was how he took his scoring chances, along with fellow try-scorers Keven Mealamu, Cory Jane and Richard Kahui, and if Wales can take anything from their defeat it’s this – they need to take their chances… or else.
“We’re learning, it was the same against South Africa two weeks ago when we came in at half-time feeling very positive,” star Welsh centre Jamie Roberts told BBC Sport this week – a statement which ties in well with our above summation.
“[In the] first half we played some good stuff, tactically we were superb and we came in at half-time feeling really confident,” he added.
“Our defence was quite poor in that second half, especially off the kick-chase, and if you give sides like New Zealand unstructured ball to play off they’re going to kill you off, and we did that in the form of turnovers.”
Roberts in just over 12 months has grown from a talented Cardiff Blues and Welsh player into a quality B&I Lions Test star. He will, again, play a huge role for the tourists on Saturday in the middle of rookie flyhalf Dan Biggar and new outside centre Jonathan Davies – both of whom will rely on his physicality and calmness under pressure.
But Roberts could really come into his own should the Kiwis be forced into playing without Carter – their key playmaker having pulled up with a sore calf muscle this week, which means young Aaron Cruden will have to fill his boots; making him an obvious target – in the 10-12 channel – for the powerhouse Cardiff star.
Carter remained confident on Thursday that he would be able to take his place in the No.10 shirt come Saturday evening and Kiwi mentor Graham Henry was quite rightly given his star man as much time as possible to prove his fitness.
Henry, however, was not too keen to dwell on individuals in the build-up to the second Test and he told AFP this week: “We certainly need to improve on the first-half performance [from last week].
“If we can put two halves together I’ll be happy. We’ve just got to be aware, to build better as a team and as individuals to start the game.”
Players to Watch:
For New Zealand: Zac Guildford gets a chance in the No.11 shirt this weekend and he is one to watch, alongside wing partner Cory Jane who continues to impress in the No.14 jersey – especially with Rene Ranger suddenly finding himself on the bench. Israel Dagg’s performances against Ireland and Wales (in the first half last week, before his head knock) would have given Mils Muliaina sleepless nights. The 82-Test veteran, however, has been handed a lifeline after Dagg limped out of last Saturday’s meeting in Dunedin. Will Muliaina’s lack of match fitness count against him? Can his counter-attacking genius make up for the loss of Dagg’s all-round brilliance and is he still the No.1 fullback in New Zealand?
For Wales: Dan Biggar is the obvious man to watch in red… A lot has been written and said about this young man and he is following in some pretty illustrious footsteps; not just Stephen Jones’s but the likes of Cliff Morgan, Barry John, Phil Bennett and Jonathan Davies too. His coach believes in him, but it remains to be seen whether or not the five-Test rookie can inspire his side to an historic victory. There is a school of thought – in some parts of Wales – that captain Ryan Jones’s best days are behind him. He tried last week, but was he Wales’s best player? You would do well to watch him this week.
Head to Head: Jimmy Cowan v Matt Phillips: Are there any cheekier halfbacks in world rugby at present? The answer to that question would have to be no! Both Cowan and Phillips – as most scrumhalves would be – are central to their teams’ performances, but also prone to losing a bit of focus during 80 minutes. Cowan had a tough Super 14 campaign with the Highlanders, but has shaped up nicely this Test season, whilst Phillips will no doubt be fired-up for this match after his injury troubles earlier in the season.
2010: New Zealand won 42-9, Dunedin
2009: New Zealand won 19-12, Cardiff
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
2003: New Zealand won 55-3, Hamilton
rugby365.com prediction: It should be closer than last week’s Dunedin disaster but a lot depends on whether Carter starts or not. Either way the home side will triumph – New Zealand by at least 18 points, but it could be less if Carter does not take to the field.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Rene Ranger.
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom Prydie, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Ryan Jones (captain), 7 Gavin Thomas, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Craig Mitchell, 18 Deiniol Jones, 19 Rob McCusker, 20 Richard Rees, 21 Stephen Jones, 22 Will Harries.
Date: Saturday, June 26
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Expected weather: Moderate rain (6mm) forecast, with 20km/h winds. 11°C – minimum and maximum
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), James Leckie (Australia)
Television Match Official: George Ayoub (Australia)