Wales coach Warren Gatland has named a battle-hardened team for the first test against New Zealand on Saturday.
In a team packed with plenty of caps, the New Zealander has also sprang a couple of surprises: Gethin Jenkins, Wales’ most capped player, comes in at loosehead in place of Rob Evans, while Scarlets skipper Ken Owens replaces Scott Baldwin at hooker.
Evans was one of Wales’ best players during the Six Nations, earning rave reviews for his work in the loose and his solid scrummaging. However, Gatland has opted for Jenkins’ greater experience for the cauldron of Eden Park, as the Blues star makes his 125th appearance for his country.
Owens’ constant impact off the bench, meanwhile, allied with Baldwin’s drop in form sees the 29-year-old make his first start in some time.
Alun Wyn Jones makes his 100th appearance for Wales, partnered by the Ospreys-bound Bradley Davies, ensuring a hard, abrasive edge in the Welsh boilerhouse. Jake Ball drops down to the bench with the experienced Luke Charteris not included in the matchday 23 after arriving late in New Zealand following club commitment in France.
In a huge boost for Gatland, skipper Sam Warburton returns from injury with the powerful Gloucester flanker Ross Moriarty replacing the injured Dan Lydiate at six and Wales’ Mr. Consistent, Talupe Faletau, packing down at eight.
Uncapped Blues flanker Ellis Jenkins, drafted into the touring party late in place of Dan Lydiate, is named on the bench.
In the backs, Jonathan Davies comes in at 13 in place of Scott Williams, in the only change behind the scrum from Wales’ 27-13 defeat to England two weeks ago.
As expected the back three remains the same with George North and Hallam Amos on the wings, and Liam Williams at full-back.
Gatland had this to say about his selection:
“We have made five changes since our last hit out and there is an opportunity for a number of players.
“It’s an opportunity for a couple of boys to start and we are bringing in experience with Gethin, Ken and Bradley. In the midfield, it’s nice to have that experienced combination back and the players who move to the bench will still have an impact on game day.
“We are under no illusions how tough the test series will be against the back-to-back World Champions but the players are also aware how important this tour is.”
Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953 and have never won a test in New Zealand.
WALES TEAM TO PLAY NEW ZEALAND
Liam Williams (Scarlets); George North (Northampton Saints), Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Samson Lee (Scarlets); Bradley Davies (Wasps), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys); Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, CAPT), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets)
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
Read More About: All Blacks, alun wyn jones, bradley davies, eden park, george north, gethin Jenkins, Jonathan Davies, ken owens, Luke Charteris, New Zealand vs Wales 2016, Rob Evans, sam warburton, scott baldwin, warren gatland