The All Blacks take on Wales for the third Test of their European tour, starting at 4.15am AEDT this morning. Join us on The Roar for live scores and comments as the game is played from Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
Generations ago, the Welsh famously defeated the mighty All Blacks. The year was 1953, the scene was their National Stadium, and the score was 13-8.
Victory against the Kiwis has eluded the Red Dragons in the 60 years since.
This is not a shameful statistic – throughout this period the All Blacks have only been defeated by five teams: the Wallabies (31), Springboks (25), France (12), British and Irish Lions (5) and England (5).
The historical average score between these two nations is 30-10 overall and 34-20 at Millennium Stadium, both results heavily in favour of the New Zealanders.
For the Welsh however the statistic that must be sitting like a hangover on a weekday is their most recent: zero wins from their last five matches, including losses to Argentina and Samoa.
Adding to the pain, prior to this run of poor form the Welsh had enjoyed domination of the northern hemisphere, with a clean sweep of Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy and France.
It’s evident the Welsh struggle against rugby union’s ‘new world’. Historically they enjoy a 57 percent win record against northern hemisphere teams, while against southern hemisphere nations, including minnows such as Fiji and Samoa, they endure a miserly 27 percent success rate.
A curious stat, given their expansive game play resembles the southern hemisphere’s way of doing things.
On to Sunday and the Welsh will be looking to achieve what no team in the world has been able to do this year: defeat the All Blacks steamroller.
Welsh coach Warren Gatland was moved to comment this week. “This New Zealand team is one of the best rugby sides to have ever played the game, and probably the best All Blacks team ever, so it will be a privilege to be able to test ourselves against them,” Gatland said.
“Memories of the Rugby World Cup last year and touring New Zealand the previous summer are still fresh in the mind of many of the players and staff.
“The hospitality shown and the way we were looked after made the experience especially memorable, and that makes it all the more special that we have the opportunity to face the best side in the world at the moment in Cardiff.”
This is a rare gushing from Gatland, who is normally keen to play down the mythical beast that is the All Blacks.
Changes to his team include a start for centre Jonathan Davies, second rower Luke Charteris, hooker Matthew Rees and flyhalf Rhys Priestland.
Most notably, flanker and captain Sam Warbutron gets a start, and will be looking to put recent poor form behind him for this massive game.
Local reports have it the man wouldn’t be starting if it weren’t for sentiment; such is his lack of influence of late. Yet he’s a big game player and this is a big game.
From the visitor’s camp, Steve Hansen has wheeled in his big guns, with Dan Carter and Richie McCaw both starting.
Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith get the romance back in the midfield and Cory Jane replaces Hosea Gear, who had a fairly average game last week against Italy.
Julian Savea gets another guernsey, and notably Israel Dagg is back, after taking a week off due to a bruising injury against Scotland. He was missed against Italy, with fill-in fullback Beauden Barrett doing enough without being spectacular.
The chat from the Welsh coaching staff has been generous, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was equally sentimental:
“We have always known this game will be a fiercely contested match,” Hansen said.
“The Welsh team in the last 12 months have been Grand Slam winners and 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finalists and we have known since the World Cup that this would be the game that they would be targeting in this Autumn Series, so any recent performances or results won’t have any bearing on this match.”
Whichever way you spin it, the All Blacks’ coaching staff will be expecting a massive display from their men after the staccato affair against Italy last week. The cannons are loaded and ready.
If the Welsh pull off an upset for the ages, expect the pubs to run dry.