AP – Wales are instructed to be bold as they attempt to overcome two big historic barriers by beating the All Blacks in the first match of their three-Test series at Eden Park on Saturday.
The Welsh have not beaten the All Blacks in 63 years, while they will also become part of the collective effort to end New Zealand’s 21-year winning streak at the Auckland stadium.
Welsh hopes are high that both of those records might fall on Saturday against an All Blacks team with an element of fragility after the retirements that followed last year’s World Cup triumph.
But the All Blacks are equally confident that careful planning for the post-World Cup era has reduced any vulnerability they might otherwise have faced after the retirement of six players with a collective 700 test caps.
Wales has lost 26 consecutive tests to New Zealand since their last win over the All Blacks – one of only three in its history – in Cardiff 63 years ago.
There have been a few close calls but mostly over those six decades, the gap between the teams has widened.
Still, the Welsh have sounded confident, and have spoken over the past week about the All Blacks’ weaknesses and vulnerability.
They have also talked about trying to match the All Blacks at their own game, by playing skilful and ambitious rugby.
“The message to our players is to be bold, be smart in the way we play and don’t be scared to try things,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.
“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 stay in the arm-wrestle and to match them physically up front.”
Wales hope New Zealand might suffer some disruption from the loss of players such as Dan Carter at flyhalf and Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith who formed the world’s best midfield combination.
While their replacements aren’t yet of that calibre, Aaron Cruden – who will wear Carter’s No. 10 jersey – has a deep reservoir of Test experience and centres Malikai Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty are skilful, though their partnership is green.
“I’m not trying to be Dan Carter,” Cruden said. “I’m just trying to be Aaron Cruden.
“I guess I get the first opportunity this week to wear that No.10 jersey. It’s been 19 months since my last Test, so I’m really looking forward to this one.”
Significantly, there is not a single debutant in New Zealand’s starting side.
NEW ZEALAND: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Res: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Seta Tamanivalu.
WALES: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Hallam Amos, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Ross Moriarty, Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Samson Lee, Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins. Res: Scott Baldwin, Rob Evans, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Ellis Jenkins, Gareth Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Scott Williams.