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All Blacks relish prospect of facing ex-Kiwi teammates in Wales test

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

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Sam Whitelock and the All Blacks are relishing the chance of squaring off against a couple of former Super Rugby teammates when the Kiwis take on Wales in Cardiff on Sunday [NZT].

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Bereft of numerous frontline players due to injuries and the match being held outside of World Rugby’s November test window, Wales have named an understrength team, of which features two New Zealanders.

After two years out of action as a result of a serious knee injury sustained in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup, former Blues and Chiefs playmaker Gareth Anscombe has been named to start at first-five by Kiwi-born Wales coach Wayne Pivac.

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Anscombe is joined in the starting lineup by ex-Crusaders outside back Johnny McNicholl, who will start at fullback.

McNicholl has numerous former teammates in the All Blacks squad after having played for the Crusaders between 2013 and 2016 and Canterbury between 2011 and 2016.

During that time, the 30-year-old played alongside Whitelock, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Richie Mo’unga, David Havili, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett in either one of, if not both, of those teams.

All eight of those players, except for Bridge, have been named in the starting side to face McNicholl, and Whitelock said there is a sense of eagerness among that contingent to play the five-test international.

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“I played with Johnny when we were in the Crusaders. Johnny and Codie Taylor are very good friends,” Whitelock told reporters on Saturday [NZT].

“They played at the Sydenham club together, so it’s pretty awesome you get to get out there and play for your country, and Johnny gets to play for Wales against the nation of his birth.

“It’s pretty cool when you get to do that on the big international stage in front of so many people, and I’m sure there’d be heaps of people at home that’ll be taking pride out of what he’s achieved while coming over here because he’s done an outstanding job and I’m sure he’ll be keen to put his best foot forward.”

The same can be said for Anscombe, who played alongside Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Angus Ta’vao at the Blues in 2012 and for Auckland between 2010 and 2014.

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Anscombe’s two-year stint at the Chiefs between 2013 and 2014 also saw him play with Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Brad Weber and Anton Lienert-Brown, the former two of whom he won a Super Rugby title with eight years ago.

Prior to that, the 30-year-old was part of the 2011 world champion New Zealand U20 team that also featured Taylor, Retallick, Cane, Weber, TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett, who will act as Anscombe’s opposite in his 100th test for the All Blacks.

Whitelock said that extensive intel on Anscombe, whose only appearance against the All Blacks came off the bench at Eden Park five years ago, could prove to be crucial come kick-off.

“A few of the boys played with him in New Zealand and know him pretty well going through the age-group sides with him, and then obviously Super Rugby as well,” he said.

“They know him probably better than most people would. It wouldn’t matter how many times you studied film or looked at how he wants to play the game, so it’s been really good having inside knowledge like that, but also, vice versa, they’re looking at us too.

“We’ve got to worry about ourselves first, and then if we get an opportunity to put him or any of the Welsh team under pressure, that’s something that we’ve got to do without compromising our own game and the way we want to play.”

Kick-off for this weekend’s test at Principality Stadium is scheduled for 5:15am on Sunday [NZT].

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