A better balanced All Blacks back three should ensure a more convincing result for the world champs in Saturday’s clash against Wales, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The All Blacks relied on a strong finish and the impact of their bench to come away with what was, in the end, a rather flattering 39-21 win over Wales last weekend.
In the opening half, the Kiwis looked uncharacteristically out of sorts, and none more so than Julian Savea, who was eventually subbed just after the half-time break.
Savea has battled to find his best form all Super Rugby season, and coach Steve Hansen has acknowledged that the big winger is struggling with a crisis of confidence at the moment.
As a result, Hansen has swung the axe, with Savea dropping out of the match 23 for Saturday’s clash in Wellington, Ben Smith moving to the wing and Israel Dagg coming in at fullback.
Dagg has impressed for the Crusaders since coming back from an injury, and will add real dynamism to the back three, while the reliability and mobility of Smith will serve the All Blacks well out wide, where Savea proved to be cumbersome and limited last weekend.
As pointed out this week by Hansen, by the time Savea was replaced in Auckland he had touched the ball four times, while his fellow winger Waisake Naholo – who scored two tries on the night – had 17 touches.
There is no doubt that the All Blacks back three looks to have a better balance to it this week, but by contrast, Wales have suffered a massive blow after star winger George North was ruled out with a hamstring injury. As a result, Liam Williams moves to the wing and Rhys Patchell comes in at fullback.
North was the star performer last weekend, making 121 running metres, beating six defenders and executing four clean breaks. He will be sorely missed by Wales.
And although the Welsh will take heart from last weekend’s performance, one would expect the All Blacks to be far more clinical and cohesive after their opening encounter of the season, with lock Sam Whitelock also returning to boost the pack.
Ultimately, the All Blacks should come away with a far more comfortable victory in Wellington.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 28, Wales 3
In New Zealand: All Blacks 8, Wales 0
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Seta Tamanivalu.
Wales – 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Wayne Barnes (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP Photo