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New Zealand will head into their second Test in Wellington against Wales with heaps of confidence after winning the series opener last weekend.
Steve Hansen’s troops appeared rusty at Eden Park last Saturday, and were trailing 18-15 at the break. Despite the visitors matching New Zealand in nearly all the facets of play, the world champions showed their class in the second 40 to claim a 36-21 victory in the end.
In particluar, it was thanks to the grit and tenacious effort that the All Black pack put in at every set-piece that allowed their skillful backs to run at full pace against a shaky Welsh defence. The home side will now face Warren Gatland’s men for the second time, but on Tuesday a mid-week Wales team suffered a humiliating 40-7 defeat against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
As that scoreline suggests, Gatland’s charges were humbled by the two-time Super Rugby champions and the New Zealand-born coach said the loss has given him insight into his fringe players’ ability to make the step up to Test level.
Not only was the heavy defeat an eye opener for the coach but it also exposed many other flaws that could see the All Blacks set a few more records and a bigger winning margin than Dave Rennie’s men did earlier in the week.
Wales were thoroughly outclassed by a Super Rugby side without some of their key players such as Damian McKenzie and Sam Cane, both with the All Blacks, as well as Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams, who has been on duty for New Zealand’s national Sevens team all season. The Hamilton-based side dominated Tuesday’s clash, outscoring Wales – whose side had eight players who were part of the matchday 23 in the first Test at Eden Park – six tries to one.
The home side’s domination in the second half of last week’s Test is something that Wales will have to counteract as the All Blacks gained nearly twice as much (749) metres as their opponents (422) and this is evident of the level of confidence that the current world champions had in the second 40 minutes.
Wales will, however, have to step up on defence if they were to effect any form of dramatic turnaround after suffering two losses, conceding eleven tries in just four days.
The visitors might just be physically drained given that a quarter of Gatland’s 32-man squad were all part of the first Test as well as the match against the Chiefs on Tuesday – Scott Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Scott Baldwin, Rob Evans, Tomas Francis and Taulupe Faletau.
The visitors will also have to restrict and starve the All Blacks from quality possession and territory while minimising the error count, especially on defence, compared to the opener of the three-match Test series. The visitors missed an alarming 31 tackles, only managing to make 74 percent (87) of their 118 tackles.
Even with the loss to the Chiefs, the visitors will know exactly where they have to improve and work on as they head into the Wellington Test, but knowing how relentless and consistent the All Blacks are, the one thing Wales will have to focus on is to play for the full 80 minutes.
Should the wave of expected All Black attacking phases be too much for Gatland’s men, they could be huddling behind their own whitewash more often than last week’s five tries.
Not only does their tackling need a bit of upgrading, but they will need to improve their discipline and not play to New Zealand’s strengths by kicking the ball downfield and in doing so handing the ball to the likes of the 50-Test cap duo – Isreal Dagg (full-back) and Ben Smith (right wing) – and the powerful left wing Waisake Naholo, who are all known to make opposition pay with their elusive counter-attacks from deep inside their own 22.
Players List Second Test:
NZ All Blacks: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty,11 Waisake Naholo; 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Joe Moody, 2 Dane Coles, 3 Owen Franks; 4 Sam Whitelock, 5 Brodie Retallick; 6 Jerome Kaino, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Kieran Read (c).
Reserves: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Seta Tamanivalu.
Wales: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb; 1 Gethin Jenkins, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Luke Charteris, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Ross Moriarty, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 8 Taulupe Faletau.
Reserves: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.