New Zealand & Wales square off in the second Test of their three-match series at the Westpac Stadium this Saturday.
A victory for the hosts would see them wrap up the series while a victory for the Welsh - as highly unlikely as it may be – would reignite what seems a dead rubber of a June series.
New Zealand v Wales | Saturday 18 June | Westpac Stadium | 09:35 (CAT)
To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 1/20 | Draw 40/1 | Wales 15/2
New Zealand (-19.5) 9/10 | Wales (+19.5) 9/10
The All Blacks were given a bit of a rude awakening during the first half of the opening Test in Auckland. The Welsh came out with a huge amount of intent during the opening stanza and were unlucky to have only built up a three-point lead when the teams headed in for half-time.
Steve Hansen’s men looked rather rusty in the first stanza but showed that there will be no post-World Cup hangover for New Zealand rugby with a clinical second-half display that was epitomised by Kieran Read.
The Crusaders number eight was magnificent. His link up play was top notch, he cleared ruck after ruck, and his game management was Richie McCaw-esque. The big man played a pivotal role in his side eventually running out 39-21 victors. He also seamlessly transitioned into Richie McCaw’s leadership role.
Another man who impressed in last week’s victory was Highlanders flyer Waisake Naholo. While the 96-kilogram winger copped some stick from New Zealand press due to a few howlers under the high ball and an ill-advised attempt to shut down space by coming off his wing, his running game was joy to behold. He also illustrated just how strong he is with ball in hand by barging over the Welsh try line from close range to score his second try of the game.
I reckon Steve Hansen is a rather content man despite his side’s slow start to the first Test. Yeah, he’ll be a bit worried with some of the facets of the All Blacks play – Aaron Cruden’s kicking out of hand wasn’t out of the top draw and Julian Savea looked a shadow of the man who was bagging tries for fun in last year’s Super Rugby tournament – but at the end of the day, his side has an advantage in the series and they’ve shaken off some of that infamous test match rust.
You really have to feel for Wales. Having put in another typically gutsy display, the Dragons will still be wondering how the All Blacks managed to extend their full time lead to such a large margin. Not only did Warren Gatland’s side have to endure a glance at a rather unflattering full-time scoreboard but they also lost key man George North to a hamstring injury. The ‘Welsh Lomu’ will take no further part in the series which is a huge blow as he enjoyed one of his best games in a Welsh jumper last week.
North won’t be alone on the long flight back to Wales as scrum-half Llyod Williams also pulled up with an injury last week. Scarlets utility back, Rhys Patchell, and Welsh Under 20 winger Keelan Giles have been flown out as cover, although neither is likely to see any first team action with Eli Walker set to cover for North.
To compound matters for Gatland, the long-term Wales mentor witnessed his second stringers go down by 40 points to severely to a vastly understrength Waikato Chiefs side in their midweek tour match. Gatland was also forced to throw on first team centre Jamie Roberts in a bid to stem a rampant Chiefs midfield. While Roberts is a class act, one has to wonder if a game and a half's worth of rugby in the space of four days will not have some influence on his performance this Saturday.
Verdict: New Zealand (-19.5) 9/10I expect the All Black to be a lot more clinical this week. The Test match rust and I fully expect them to clear a rather kind handicap.