Wales bidding to end their All Black hoodoo
New Zealand have won their last 25 matches against their hosts
New Zealand’s Keven Mealamu: will break Colin Meads’ record for a New Zealander of 361 first-class appearances if he appears as a substitute in Cardiff. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
It was the worst of times but it inspired the best of times. When New Zealand lost to France in the quarter-finals of the World Cup at the Millennium Stadium in 2007 and made their earliest exit from the tournament, a country slumped into stunned disbelief. “We were a bunch of boof-heads, a dumb rugby nation,” said one commentator.
The All Blacks return to the Millennium Stadium to face Wales and they will be back at the ground at next year’s World Cup, where they could again face France in the quarter-finals. The reaction to their blackest day in the professional era was not knee-jerk but measured: the coaching team was retained after an independent review and Richie McCaw continued as captain.
South Africa are second in the world rankings and in that time they have lost half the number of games they have won; with two draws it gives them a success rate of 66 per cent. In the past five years New Zealand have lost five Tests, two when they fielded weakened teams away in the Tri-Nations before the 2011 World Cup, which they won.
“We had a team that should have won the World Cup in 2007 but we stuffed it up because we expected to win it,” says Steve Hansen, an assistant coach then who took charge four years later.
“We had the players but we didn’t have the mental mindset. You have to earn the right to win it and I don’t think we were hungry enough. Since then, we have got stronger mentally.”
Hansen cites the example of the hooker Keven Mealamu who, if he comes off the bench against Wales, will break Colin Meads’ record for a New Zealander of 361 first-class appearances. Mealamu, a 35-year-old, has started only one Test this year but, as his hold on the jersey weakens, he is helping to ensure those who take possession fit into it.
The All Blacks have lost one match in the past two calendar years, in South Africa last month when they fell to a late, disputed, long-range penalty.
One of the reasons they are formidably hard to beat is the composure they show at the end of matches when physical and mental fatigue are at their highest. Last-minute tries took them to victory in Dublin last year and Brisbane last month while they also denied England a draw late on in Auckland in July.
New Zealand have won their past 25 matches against Wales who have tended to find a way of losing tight matches in the autumn series rather than winning them. Wales will start strongly but will they finish like New Zealand do?
WALES: L Halfpenny ; A Cuthbert , J Davies, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar, R Webb; P James, R Hibbard, S Lee , J Ball , A-W Jones , D Lydiate , S Warburton (capt), T Faletau. Replacements: S Baldwin, N Smith, R Jones, L Charteris, J Tipuric, M Phillips, J Hook, L Williams.
NEW ZEALAND: B Smith; C Piutau, C Smith, S B Williams, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; W Crockett, D Coles, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read. Replacements: K Mealamu, J Moody, C Faumuina, P Tuipulotu, L Messam, T J Perenara, C Slade, R Crotty.
Referee: W Barnes (England).