The All Blacks Are Tired, Jaded, Weakened . . . But Don’t Bet The House On Red

So, here we go again. Can Wales beat the All Blacks this week? No-one under pensionable age can remember what victory over New Zealand feels like. Geraint Powell looks at the fixture’s history and says the tourists are more vulnerable than ever. Just don’t part with a lot of money.

Would you, as a Welsh rugby fan, be happy to lose to Australia, Georgia and South Africa in order to beat New Zealand?

That has been an oft asked question ahead of this November campaign.  I think it is fair to say that many readily answered “yes”.  Unfortunately, that is not how beating the All Blacks actually works in practice.  If you are unable to beat Georgia, and a weakened Welsh side came perilously close to being held to a draw on Saturday, the odds on beating the All Blacks are not great.

If Wales and Australia have been radically different rugby cultures, then the same cannot be said for Wales and New Zealand.  Substitute farmer for miner/steelworker, and historically you could be talking about the same country on a different geographical scale.

The landscape is green, wet, with lots of sheep and rugby pitches, and with a national rugby team that has been the centre of the national psyche and not just the sporting environment.  Albeit, that the NZ rugby pyramid is far more efficient than the Welsh equivalent.

It might seem like an accident of history now, but when Wales lined up to play the visiting All Blacks in 1963, the record stood at Wales having won three (1905, 1935, 1953) New Zealand having won once (1924).  Yes, they were all matches played in Wales and the 1905 watch was not without controversy.  But that was a 75% win ratio in favour of Wales.

But the 1963 match was an All Blacks win, and so have been the 28 encounters since.  Whilst the weak English national team of the early 1970s won in Auckland, the vintage Welsh team of the same era could not beat the All Blacks in Cardiff.

There have been a number of close calls, from the notorious Andy Haden/Frank Oliver line-out dive in 1978, to Wales pushing them all the way in 2004. But there have also been plenty of hidings.  Nine times the All Blacks have scored more than 40 points against Wales since the last Welsh win.

The two drubbings in 1988, on the back of a World Cup drubbing a year before, triggered a Welsh exodus to rugby league and sent the Welsh national team into a tailspin that it took the best part of 15 years to consistently and fully recover from.

The All Blacks are vulnerable, for their last match of 2017 is a great time for any country to be playing them.  Eddie Jones would undoubtedly be salivating at the prospect of England playing them this weekend, but he will have to wait until November 2018 before they visit Twickenham.

This calendar year has seen a British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. It has been a physically and mentally tiring year, the All Blacks prepared and conditioned to peak much earlier than in most seasons.  This after effect could be seen during the subsequent SANZAAR Rugby Championship.

New Zealand v Wales. Pic: Getty Images.

There was an impressive first-half demolition of Australia in Sydney and a demolition of the Springboks in Albany, but their form has been patchy by their own high standards.  The Wallabies in Dunedin and the Springboks in Cape Town pushed them hard, and the Wallabies won the post-tournament third Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane.

The All Blacks have kept winning on tour, but both the French midweek team and Scotland pushed them hard.  Their injury list has been mounting.

First choice props Owen Franks and Joe Moody were lost to injury for their season during the Rugby Championship.  First choice hooker Dane Coles recently followed them against France, along with blindside flanker Jerome Kaino.  Talismanic lock Brodie Retallick, World Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, is not on this tour due to family reasons.

Behind the scrum, Ben Smith is absent from this tour on a pre-planned sabbatical.  Jordie Barratt, Israel Dagg and Nehe Milner-Skudder were ruled out of this tour due to injury.  The match against Scotland saw the season end a week early for Rieko Ioane and Luke Romano.

If the All Blacks are vulnerable, and they certainly are, can Wales do anything about it?

Clearly not on the form showed against the Wallabies, the Welsh side that is likely to closely resemble the side picked to play the All Blacks.

Without skipper Sam Warburton at the breakdown for the autumn Tests, a pivotal battle against Sam Cane will be fought on Saturday in the Lions’ captain’s absence. Key fellow Lion Jonathan Davies was also injured against the Wallabies.  Davies had caused the All Blacks some problems with the Lions.

Wales are currently embryonically changing their game plan, a trade-off where time has been sacrificed during this World Cup cycle to reinvigorate a long-term coach and have him coaching at the very highest level with the Lions.  Not much seemed to change during his 2016-17 absence.

Mike Ruddock. Pic: Huw Evans Agency.

There is still two years before the next World Cup, and our best region has been playing very expansive offloading rugby, but clearly our evolution is behind most other nations at this point.

When Wales last played the All Blacks during their June 2016 tour of New Zealand, Wales were competitive for an hour in the first two Tests before being blown away in the third match.

For Wales to win on Saturday, it would be a case of throwing everything at the All Blacks and for much of the evolving game plan to suddenly click.

Wales came close in 2004, when Mike Ruddock tweaked the foundations previously laid in Wales by his predecessor and current All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

Nevertheless, the odds are still against Wales, and the odds are seldom worse than when Wales play New Zealand.

It is now 64 years since the last Welsh win, when Winston Churchill resided at 10 Downing Street.

For all the vulnerability of the All Blacks, few will bet heavily against them.

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