Wales to go all out to win 3rd test vs New Zealand
WELLINGTON: The Welsh players are vowing to muster one last massive effort on Saturday to end a 63-year losing streak.
New Zealand has already won the three-match series 2-0 but the Welsh are saying they're not disheartened and will fling everything into a last-ditch effort in the third test in Dunedin to beat the All Blacks for the first time since 1953.
From the outside, Wales' best chance to re-write history appears already to have gone. It found the All Blacks rusty and in a process of reorganization in the first test at Auckland, which it led until the 62nd minute before conceding three late tries.
In the second test, it went to halftime on terms at 10-10, then conceded four tries in a destructive 10-minute period. Two late Welsh tries made the All Blacks' eventual winning margin (36-22) the slimmest in all tests between the teams in New Zealand.
As it enters Saturday's final test, Wales seems likely to be deflated by those two defeats which came after it had seemed to prove its competitiveness. It is likely to be whittled down by injuries, the most-recent to veteran prop Gethin Jenkins, and exhausted at the end of a series of intensely physical matches.
But scrumhalf Rhys Webb, an outstanding performer in the Auckland and Wellington tests, said the feeling within the Wales camp was still one of optimism.
"It's been quite easy to pick ourselves up because we put in some good performances over the first two tests," he said. "We haven't been getting results but we're not too far away.
"I think in the first test it was that little bit of concentration in the last 15 minutes, and in the second test it was a 10 minute period when there were a couple of missed tackles. These are things we can put right."
The All Blacks have been able to refresh themselves with a number of changes to their lineup, including three new caps — one in the starting lineup and two on the bench — for the third test.
While those changes give the New Zealand lineup an experimental appearance, there are enough players with extensive test experience to easily assimilate the newcomers.
"We thought about keeping the same side but we felt 'what are we going to learn about the squad if we do that?'" head coach Steve Hansen said. "It's risk and reward.
"We have complete confidence in (the new players) and we just felt the risks were minimal and the rewards were going to be fantastic for us."
New Zealand's performance improved between the first and second tests, despite the reduced margins. In both matches it needed until the second half to unleash its attacking game — a result of Wales' strong defense and physical work at the breakdown.
But at Dunedin, in the enclosed Forsythe Barr Stadium which ensures perfect playing conditions, they are likely to be able to chance their arm sooner.
Flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who came off the bench to ignite the All Blacks' comebacks in the first and second tests, gets a rare starting opporunity in place of the injured Aaron Cruden and that might bring a sharper edge to their attacking game.
New Zealand is trying a new midfield combination between Ryan Crotty and George Moala, who is playing only his second test. But Moala has been training with the All Blacks backline for the last three weeks, is familiar with its structures and brings a strong, running game.
Winger Julian Savea also returns and determined to re-establish himself after being dropped for the second test because of poor form. Savea scored his 39th try in 42 tests in the series-opener but that couldn't save him from the intense competition for starting places.
Wales has pledged to continue the bold, attacking style it has pursued in the first two tests.
"For us it's not just about going down to Dunedin to finish off our season and getting on the plane, serenading the All Blacks about how good they've been," flyhalf Dan Biggar said. "It's about getting in amongst them again and pushing them as much as we can."