Wales kick off their three Test series against New Zealand this Saturday, with Warren Gatland’s men looking for a first ever win in the land of the long white cloud. Here’s the XV I think Gatland should have picked for Saturday’s huge challenge
(You can read about Gatland’s actual selection here).
15. Liam Williams:
The 25-year-old was uncharacteristically below-par against England, dropping a couple of high balls and missing a couple of important tackles. Expect him to step up to the plate on Saturday, with his game breaking abilities key to any Welsh hopes of a victory.
14. Hallam Amos:
Amos looked sharp against England in attack and decent in defence, justifying his selection in front of the Blues’ Tom James. With his greater attacking threat and an eye on the 2019 World Cup, the Dragons flyer gets the nod from me. The 21-year-old will face the ultimate challenge on Saturday though as he lines up against the World’s best number 11 in Julian Savea.
13. Jonathan Davies:
The return of ‘Foxy’ from club duties in France is a big boost for Wales. Vastly experienced, 55-times capped Davies offers a quality kicking game, a running threat with front foot ball, and good distribution skills. Since coming back from injury at the end of last year, Davies has started to show glimpses of his quality. His partnership with Jamie Roberts will offer Wales needed experience in a hostile environment.
12. Jamie Roberts:
Another one that was unusually below-par against England, Roberts missed a number of tackles and lacked his usual oomph in midfield. However, he is a big game player so expect him to produce a big performance on Saturday, in an area where Wales boast a clear advantage in terms of experience over their opponents.
11. George North:
After an excellent Six Nations, North has a perfect opportunity to cement his place as one of the World’s best wingers. After an outstanding 2013 Lions series but a quiet World Cup, North will view the series as a golden opportunity to strut his stuff against the best in the business. Wales have to get him more into the game if they are to really test the All Black defence.
10. Dan Biggar:
As Wales seek to play a more expansive game, some have questioned Biggar’s place at number ten, citing Rhys Priestland’s impressive performances against Ireland and England as reasons to consider a change.
But after consistently being one of Wales’ best players in the last couple of years and because of his big game temperament, I would stick with Biggar for now. What Rob Howley has to do though is to draw Biggar’s attacking instincts more out of him by encouraging him to stand flatter and attack opposition defences more. I would bring Priestland on around the 50-minute mark to provide a different and more attacking threat.
9. Rhys Webb:
A no-brainer here. Webb was one of the few Welsh players to emerge with credit from the Twickenham debacle. His lightening quick-service and huge attacking threat around the fringes means he will be crucial to Welsh hopes on Saturday. Europe’s best scrum-half, his battle with world number one Aaron Smith promises to be fascinating.
8. Toby Faletau:
In a rare poor display, Faletau wasn’t himself against England. But expect Wales’ Mr. Consistency to put a big performance in against the All Blacks on Saturday. The northern hemisphere’s best number eight, the dynamic, Bath-bound 25-year old’s battle with New Zealand skipper Kieran Read promises to be epic.
7. Sam Warburton (Captain):
Warburton has been struggling with a shoulder injury since the Blues’ judgement day win over the Ospreys in April and was in a race to be fit for Saturday. His fitness level will be crucial for Welsh hopes as a result, as his excellence at the breakdown will be needed to counter All Black 7 Sam Cane. Without a recognised 7 against England, Wales were simply cleaned out at the breakdown.
6. Ross Moriarty:
The Gloucester blindside has impressed in his few international appearances and was one of Wales’ few rays of sunshine at HQ, despite playing out of position at 7. A big ball carrier who offers a hard edge in defence, Moriarty won’t let anyone down.
5. Luke Charteris:
After an outstanding season in France, the 66-times capped lock comes into the series high on confidence. Following a shaky start to his international career, Charteris has developed into a top-quality second row with his ability to spoil and pinch opposition ball a huge fillip for Wales.
Added to this are his huge work rate around the park, which saw him finish near the top of the European Champions Cup tackling charts, and he deserved the nod for this clash.
4. Alun Wyn Jones:
After a 50 minute blow-out against England following a two-month injury lay-off, Jones’ experience will be vital in the Eden Park cauldron. Outstanding at the lineout, tireless in the loose with a ‘never say die’ attitude, the 30-year-old will be another key man If Wales are to make history. Would replace him with Bradley Davies after the 50-minute mark as his lack of game time kicks in.
3. Samson Lee:
Continues to develop nicely after some injury woes in the last year. A quality scrummager who hits his rucks and pops up with the odd carry, Lee will be looking to lay down a marker for next year’s Lions series where he has a shot at making the tour.
2. Ken Owens:
The Scarlets skipper has had another excellent season for both club and country, always making a big impact off the bench for Wales. After an impressive World Cup, current incumbent Scott Baldwin has struggled – including a mixed bag of a Six Nations where after a promising start, the Ospreys No2 was inconsistent with his throwing and struggled to make his usual impact in the loose – so I would plump for ‘Cannonball Ken’.
1. Rob Evans:
Arguably the form player of Welsh rugby this year. Solid in the scrum and outstanding in the loose, the 23-year-old loosehead enjoyed an outstanding Six Nation and should have usurped Wales legend Gethin Jenkins on this occasion in the process.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena