'We'll have to be very smart': What the All Blacks expect from Wales
That’s the verdict from All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree, who refused to minimalise the threat posed by the Welsh, even though they are bereft of numerous headline stars.
With the match being held outside of World Rugby’s November test window, Wales boss Wayne Pivac is unable to call upon British and Irish Lions trio Louis Rees-Zammit, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau, all of whom will play for their Premiership clubs in England this weekend.
The recent news of Willis Halaholo’s positive Covid test has thrown a further spanner in the works, meaning the Welsh are tasked with taking down the All Blacks for the first time since 1953 with a vastly understrength team on Sunday [NZT].
However, Plumtree told reporters on Wednesday [NZT] that the All Blacks have dismissed the fanfare over the stretched Welsh player pool and maintained that his young side are in for a tactical war at Principality Stadium.
“I’m sure the game is going to be very physical. We expect that coming from them. Every game you play against Wales, it’s always been a tough task,” Plumtree said.
“A couple of the leaders have stood up and talked to the boys that haven’t been here before about the challenge. Wales are a side that you’ve got to be very patient with, you’ve got to punch your way, and you’ve got to work very hard for a victory.
“We haven’t really read too much into the players they haven’t got available. In my time as a coach, when three or four players aren’t available, there’s another three or four that come in that always want to give their very best.
“I’m sure those players that do come in for Wales that are taking maybe some of the bigger names’ places will want to prove what they’re worth in their jersey.
“That can make life tough for us, so we understand the challenge and we’re preparing for a real tough one.”
The All Blacks aren’t without their own injury concerns after Angus Ta’avao dislocated his elbow in training, leaving the 31-year-old prop in doubt for the second match of his side’s end-of-year tour.
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After his two-try showing in New Zealand’s 104-14 thrashing of the USA Eagles in Washington DC last weekend, Ta’avao may have come into contention to face Wales.
However, the fact that Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi were among the 11 players who travelled to the United Kingdom a day before the USA test is perhaps an indication that they are the frontrunners to feature in the Welsh capital.
Should they play, Laulala and Tuungafasi are two of many players the All Blacks will heavily rely on to lay a solid foundation at the set piece as Plumtree expects a “slug fight” in potentially wet conditions, should the Principality Stadium roof be opened.
Playing against a team like the All Blacks, who like to play in all areas of the park, on a soggy turf could play into Welsh hands given, according to Plumtree, their ball-running threat in the tight channels and strong kicking game.
That doesn’t even take into account the emotional factor of taking on the All Blacks in front of a sold-out, 74,000-capacity home crowd, which Plumtree said will lift the spirits of the Welsh players.
“The psyche of the Welsh boys is that they’ll be really up for this game, they’ll be really excited about it. They know it’ll be a pretty big challenge, but they will be very motivated,” he said.
“Certainly what you can expect is every individual will play above their game that they normally play, and that will make them pretty tough [to beat].
“If you watch the Welsh play, they’re a very patient side, they build a lot of pressure through carrying the ball off 9, particularly, and they’ll be patient with their kicking game as well, so they use that to gain territory.
“If it’s a little bit wet at the stadium and the roof’s open, then, for want of a better word, it’ll be a real slug fight, potentially on a pretty soft ground.
“Tactically, we’ll have to be very smart and take our opportunities when we do get territory because we know that they’ll be working really hard defensively and they’ll be looking to build pressure with that ball.”
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