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'They've put us under real pressure': 'Special' challenge awaits All Blacks

By Tom Vinicombe
Alun Wyn Jones tackles Brodie Retallick. (Photo by Billy Stickland/Photosport)

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It’s been a long time since the All Blacks last faced off with European opposition – dating back to the bronze play-off when they squared off with an injury-impacted Wales in Tokyo.

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This weekend, they’ll once again find themselves facing a Wales team shorn of some of their top players – though for completely different reasons.

As the match will be played outside of World Rugby’s official window, a handful of Wales’ top players who represent English sides in the Gallagher Premiership won’t be available for the game, including British and Irish Lions Dan Biggar, Taulape Faletau and Louis Rees-Zammit.

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Sam Cane is building back into form after a long-term injury.
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Sam Cane is building back into form after a long-term injury.

While that perhaps means the All Blacks won’t be taking on a first-string side from Wales, it also poses a small problem: trying to tackle the unknown.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s fixture, Sam Cane has acknowledged that while the All Blacks will have to make some changes for the personnel that Wales field, they’ve not yet had the chance to clue themselves up on the individuals they’ll necessarily be lining up against.

“Without a doubt, there’s little tweaks, technically and tactically – obviously things I won’t chat about on here – but small things, but they can make a big difference if we can get them right,” he said on Tuesday.

“We only touched down [Monday] night, slept nearly a full day today, so the computers have been put out and set aside and over the next couple of days, we’ll be doing plenty of analysis.”

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One player that Wales do have access to is talismanic captain Alun Wyn Jones, who will become the most-capped player for a single nation this weekend when he lines up for his 149th test for Wales. Jones, of course, has also notched up 12 appearances for the Lions but he’ll be taking the individual nation record off Cane’s predecessor, All Blacks legend Richie McCaw.

Jones will likely go toe to toe with Brodie Retallick in the lineouts, where he’s sure to cause plenty of disruption.

“I played him a few times and I suppose between playing for Wales and also the Lions, for anyone to bring up a landmark or a record or just play that many games itself is a massive achievement and I think it speaks to the quality of the player and obviously his leadership skills with captaining a number of teams,” Retallick said. “For a man to play that many games, he’s still got plenty of energy and obviously a lot of street smarts so it’s going to be a real challenge, especially at lineout time and around the park.

“I think his all-around work rate is massive. He seems to have plenty of energy and he’ll go deep into the games and he’s obviously very smart around defensive lineouts. When we played the Liones or Welsh, they’ve put us under real pressure there.”

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Cardiff’s Principality Stadium is a buzzing hive in normal circumstances but given the record coming up for Jones, and that it will be the first time an unrestricted crowd has been allowed at the ground since the pandemic kicked off, the noise will undoubtedly be off the charts. That will make for an incredible experience for the All Blacks, but also a major challenge.

“It’s going to be special,” said Retallick. “To play here is special enough and then obviously what’s going on in the world, for them to be able to open up and have a full crowd is going to be cool and I know a lot of the boys … haven’t played here before or it’s been a while so we’re pretty excited to get in there and whether the roof’s open or shut, I’m not sure, but we’re definitely looking forward to it.

“We touched on today how loud it can be, especially around lineout calling and stuff like that. It’s like anywhere but more particular, especially in an enclosed stadium, if we can take the crowd out of it then it makes it that [much] easier. We’ll definitely be looking to start the game well and hopefully build on from there.”

Saturday’s match kicks off at 5:15pm GMT (5:15 on Sunday morning in New Zealand).

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'They've put us under real pressure': 'Special' challenge awaits All Blacks

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