The biggest game of the autumn series is always the highly anticipated, if not slightly dreaded, clash with the mighty All Blacks. As usual, the touring New Zealand side is undefeated heading into this fixture, having already put the French to the sword and limping away with a victory at Murrayfield.
Wales didn’t fare much better against the Lelos, only just claiming victory after a tumultuous end to an underwhelming test match. The question is now, with injuries affecting both sides and fans of each nation clearly disappointed with the result of last weekend’s games, which union will bounce back higher?
We all know what the All Blacks can bring to the table and we all know that they very rarely have two scares in a row; what we don’t know is whether or not Gatland’s boys will be able to keep up. Scotland’s sons proved to the home nations that it doesn’t take red shirts, white shorts, and blue and green socks to make the All Blacks bleed. Can Wales finish the job and end a cycle that’s been unbroken since the middle of last century?
Undoubtedly, Hansen’s men have the advantage of strength in depth; a seemingly bottomless chasm of talent to select from compared to Wales’ deepest valley. Don’t get me wrong, Wales have unearthed some exciting young talent recently and it finally seems that Gatland has torn down the fence that ringed his squad and given them a chance to shine. However, the contrast between the Barrett brothers’ debuts for their country compared to Wales’ debutants is depressingly stark.
Do Wales have the personnel to take on New Zealand? Absolutely… just not this year, not quite yet. I believe Wales have the players that can breed the belief to subdue the indomitable All Blacks, but those players are still young and wet behind the ears. Give them time to accumulate some scars and opportunity to grow, and the likes of Leon Brown, Seb Davies, Steff Evans and Owen Watkin could become real northern hemisphere stars. This year, however, I fear the only way Wales will beat the mighty All Blacks is with a stick while they slept.
The All Blacks just have a sharper edge and a heavier force behind it. Regardless of whether or not Wales are in ‘a transitional period’ or not, the little nation needs to have its biggest guns firing its most precise missiles to beat the tourists. I’d dearly love to be proven wrong, but I don’t see Wales putting up as stubborn a fight as Scotland.
The hard choices facing Gatland are before him… so I’ve taken it upon myself to name the side that I would pick, and the reasoning behind the choices too. My team selection will be available to see the morning before Gatland is due to name his side… just in case I can influence the Kiwi!