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The reason Wales are backing rookie Rio Dyer against All Blacks

By PA
(Photo by Huw Fairclough/Getty Images)

Wales boss Wayne Pivac has backed Rio Dyer to relish the prospect of a Test match debut against New Zealand in Cardiff. The 22-year-old Dragons wing starts the Autumn Nations Series opener after an impressive United Rugby Championship campaign – and he could not have wished for a bigger stage, with Wales seeking a first victory over the All Blacks since 1953.

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“He is a young man that is in form,” Pivac said. “He has been playing and training well, so we think it is a great opportunity for him. Those are the ones [the conversations] you love having as a coach. It is when you are telling someone they are not involved that you don’t enjoy them.

“The senior players are getting around him and supporting him. He is genuinely excited. He is a confident young man. I don’t think the occasion will get to him. He is looking forward to testing himself against some of the best players in the world.

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“At the moment, he is showing all the qualities to be a very, very good rugby player. He has come in and it’s like he has been here a long, long time. He gets about his work really nicely like a good professional. We’ve been very pleased to see that growth in a short space of time.”

Dyer will wear the No11 shirt that Josh Adams would normally fill, but he is continuing his recovery from a hand injury. Pivac added: “In terms of Josh, it is probably another week or two. We would like to think Josh will be ready next week. We will take that one as it comes.”

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Elsewhere, Leigh Halfpenny will make his Wales return at the Principality Stadium after a 16-month absence from Test rugby. The Scarlets full-back suffered serious knee ligament damage during Wales’ victory over Canada last year. Hooker Ken Owens, who has not played for Wales since the 2021 Six Nations due to a back problem, starts in the front row alongside Gareth Thomas and Tomas Francis.

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Pivac has replaced injured fly-half Dan Biggar with Gareth Anscombe, while captain Justin Tipuric and his fellow openside flanker Tommy Reffell pack down in the back-row, with Taulupe Faletau at No8. Tipuric last represented Wales almost 20 months ago, having been sidelined because of a serious shoulder injury, while Leicester forward Reffell is retained following an outstanding Test series against South Africa this summer.

Cardiff’s Tomos Williams has won the scrum-half vote ahead of Kieran Hardy, with considerable replacements’ bench experience provided by Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Priestland. Exeter forward Christ Tshiunza is also among the replacements, making Wales’ match day group following some outstanding displays for the Chiefs this season.

Wales have lost their last 32 Tests against New Zealand, with 24 of those defeats being by 15 points and more, but the All Blacks have experienced a testing year, losing to Ireland (twice), Argentina and South Africa and dropping from first to fourth in World Rugby’s official rankings.

Wales are fresh from a first victory over the Springboks in South Africa and Pivac said: “We need to make sure we keep building on that. “What better side to come up against than New Zealand? When you see their team sheet, it’s quality, but we are there to win it.

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“We went to South Africa on a bit of a mission and we were lucky enough to create some history there. It’s now about mental preparation and believing we can do it. We’ve got to go out there with that belief and put it out there on the park for 80 minutes.”

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