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Wales make 9 changes from team that faced France in Six Nations

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Wayne Pivac has named a Wales team to face the All Blacks this Saturday in Cardiff showing nine changes from the side that lost out 32-30 last March in the Six Nations Grand Slam decider versus France in Paris. The Welsh were ultimately crowned 2021 champions despite that loss and having since used summer matches versus Canada and Argentina (twice) to assess squad depth, Pivac has now shown his hand for this weekend’s eagerly awaited game.

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Injuries and non-player release due to the match falling outside of the agreed World Rugby window hugely influenced Pivac’s Wales pick to take on the All Blacks but one constant between now and last March is the presence of Alun Wyn Jones as skipper for his 149th Test appearance, surpassing Richie McCaw’s record of 148 appearances for New Zealand.

Pivac initially named an experienced front row with Scarlets and Lions teammates Wyn Jones and Ken Owens joined by Ospreys’ Tomas Francis. However, he was forced into a rejig barely 30 minutes later as Owens failed a fitness test and the No2 Wales jersey will now be worn against the All Blacks by Ryan Elias, with uncapped Cardiff player Kirby Myhill providing bench cover.

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It is an Ospreys second row pairing with Adam Beard lining up alongside captain Jones. The Dragons trio of Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright get the nod in the back row. Cardiff’s Tomos Williams and Ospreys’ Gareth Anscombe line up at half-back in what will be Anscombe’s first Test since his serious injury in August 2019.  Scarlets centre pairing Johnny Williams and Jonathan Davies take their place in midfield with Cardiff wingers Josh Adams and Owen Lane linking up with Scarlets full-back Johnny McNicholl in the backfield.

“The focus for this group has been two weeks of training. They have worked really, really hard and it has galvanised them. We have been low on numbers this week so it hasn’t been the normal preparation in terms of exact numbers to train against each other, so that’s been a challenge,” said Pivac, who faced into making his selection before the loss of Owens knowing that Liam Williams, George North, Josh Navidi and Justin Tupuric were missing through injury and Louis Rees-Zammit, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau were unavailable due to being based at clubs in England. Scrum-half Davies, another starter in Paris, is named on this weekend’s bench.

“It’s a big blow to lose any player that you have initially selected. We have selected a certain side and trained a certain way. It is a disruption, but it’s a massive chance for Ryan. Ken has got a back problem. We rested him from training on Tuesday and we asked him to do a couple of things this morning. We checked him again just after lunch and the decision was made that he won’t be right and we won’t risk him.

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“The guys are really excited but they know it is a big task at hand. The reality is we are two years away from a Rugby World Cup and we are building towards that. We have got a Six Nations around the corner to defend. They know it is a massive challenge ahead. Every young Welsh player when they are growing up wants to play at the Principality in front of 75,000, and if you ask them who they want to play against New Zealand would be one of the top few sides they would choose.

“With injuries and unavailability, it’s another great opportunity for players like Taine Basham and Ben Thomas to come into the group and gain valuable experience. They are going to come away from this Test match knowing what it is like to play one of the best teams in the world. To win a World Cup you have to play against teams like New Zealand at some stage in the tournament and you have to win those games. It’s going to be a great experience for those guys who haven’t played a lot of Test rugby and they will certainly know they have been in a match afterwards.”

WALES (vs New Zealand, Saturday)
15. Johnny McNicholl; 14. Owen Lane, 13. Jonathan Davies, 12. Johnny Williams, 11. Josh Adams; 10. Gareth Anscombe, 9. Tomos Williams; 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Ryan Elias (Ken Owens ruled out after being initially named as starting hooker), 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Adam Beard, 5. Alun Wyn Jones (capt), 6. Ross Moriarty, 7. Taine Basham, 8. Aaron Wainwright. Reps: 16. Kirby Myhill, 17. Rhys Carre, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. Will Rowlands, 20. Seb Davies, 21. Gareth Davies, 22. Rhys Priestland, 23. Ben Thomas.

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