By Graham Thomas
James Hook has told Wales they must keep Beauden Barrett out of the limelight if they are to have any chance of ending a dark 69-year history of failure against the All Blacks on Saturday.
Hook – who reckons Barrett is still the best blend of runner and creator in the world – believes the New Zealander will conjure enough opportunities to take the game out of Welsh hands, if he’s allowed to thrive.
A year ago, Barrett scored two tries and helped the Kiwis score seven in total as Wales were ripped apart, 54-16, in celebration of the two-time world player of the year’s 100th cap.
This year, Barrett is starting at full-back, with Richie Mo’unga at outside-half.
But according to former Wales outside-half Hook, wherever Barrett pops up the only way to stop him is to cut off his supply lines.
“Beauden Barrett is the type of player I love to watch,” says Hook ahead of the opening game of the Autumn Series, which will be shown in extended highlights form on S4C.
“He’s got pace to burn and he’s an attacking threat all over the field. He may not be the best goalkicker in the world, but the rest of his game makes up for that in my book.
“He’s got a fantastic kicking game, too. The only way to stop him is to prevent his forwards getting on the front foot, which, in turn, means he’s not on the front foot.
“That’s Wales only hope – to have him spending more time defending than attacking.”
Pressuring New Zealand, forcing them backwards and into mistakes, was the method used by Ireland in their historic series victory in New Zealand this summer.
Hook, now coaching at the Ospreys and Swansea RFC, believes Wales must apply similar pressure, but also create enough opportunities for their own danger men to score tries. Otherwise, the All Blacks will ride out the storm and control the later stages as they have done so many times in Cardiff since 1953.
“I think the All Blacks are more vulnerable than in the past and they are in something of a transitional stage,” adds Hook of the tourists, who have lost four times this year and went through a stage of losing six Tests in eight from last November to July of this year.
The tourists have steadied things with four wins on the bounce, including last week’s 38-31 win over Japan but Hook adds: “They have a few important forwards missing, and this record ending – it has to happen some time!
“But there is still so much quality there in the New Zealand squad. So, we have to attack New Zealand in the same way Japan attacked them last week. We have to show attacking intent because that’s the only way to win this game.
“We have got players like Louis Rees-Zammit who can do incredible things in control of a rugby ball.
“We also have world class players in the back row like Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric. We have to get the ball in their hands and get them making an impact in the game.”
Wales have picked Gareth Anscombe at No.10 with Rhys Priestland on the bench, but Hook would have given the replacement spot to the Scarlets’ exciting 21-year-old Sam Costelow.
“I’d like to have seen Costelow on the bench because we have to think ahead. We want to see what he can do against the big guns and not simply a team like Georgia.
“But Gareth Anscombe at 10 gives Wales more of an attacking threat. He can take the ball to the line and create for others as well as backing himself.
“Hopefully, he can get this Welsh back line going and give opportunities to players like Reece-Zammit.”
Barrett insists New Zealand have paid more attention to Wales’ recent Test victory in South Africa – the first in their history – rather than the decades of failure against the men in black.
Here’s how the opposition line up on Saturday 👇
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— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 3, 2022
The player who spent last year on a 12-month sabbatical playing his club rugby in Japan says: “South Africa are the world champions and Wales really pushed them in that series.
“They got a good victory and they are a very fit side who are good across the park. Their set piece is good and they like to play with ball in hand.
“They will be backing themselves, but we will be focussing on what we can do.
“It’s going to be a great Test. It always is at the Principality Stadium, it’s always a sell-out and we’re always up for the challenge.”
S4C: Saturday – 8.30pm: Wales v New Zealand highlights
Extended highlights of the rugby match between Wales and New Zealand in the Autumn Nations Series, which was played at the Principality Stadium.