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Third Test: New Zealand v Wales Preview
Our rugby scribe previews Saturday's final June Test between New Zealand and a struggling Wales.
A battered and bruised Wales will duke it out with the All Black juggernaut this Saturday down in Dunedin.
The hosts will be looking to rub salt into the numerous Welsh wounds that were opened up in the first two Tests while the visitors will be looking to salvage some pride from what has been a rather disappointing jaunt to ‘the land of the long white cloud’.
New Zealand v Wales | Saturday 25 June | Forsyth Barr | 09:35 (CAT)
To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 1/16 | Draw 33/1 | Wales 7/1
New Zealand (-21.5) 9/10 | Wales (+21.5) 9/10
Another week, another All Black victory. Despite struggling in the first stanza, Steve Hansen’s men showed why they are unlikely to be unseated from their throne atop the IRB World Rankings with a brilliant 15-minutes of typically brilliant attacking rugby.
Having gone into the break level on points with their Welsh counterparts, the New Zealanders came out firing. And while it took them a while to truly ignite, when they did it was attacking rugby at its best.
Ben Smith started the onslaught on the 54-minute mark, cantering over for a simple five-pointer after he was put in space by Beauden Barrett. Then a dominant five-meter scrum from the All Black pack put the Welsh defensive line on the back foot which allowed Barrett to cross the whitewash almost unopposed. Waisake Naholo completed the 15-minute blitz. Another strong New Zealand scrum opened up space on the outside and the big winger crashed over in the corner.
While New Zealand did concede two late tries, it only diminished a bit of gloss from the final score which read 36-22.
With the series already in the bag, Steve Hansen has opted to tweak his side a bit for the third and final Test. Hurricanes wing Julian Savea gets a recall to the starting line-up with Waisake Naholo dropping to the bench. Elsewhere in the backline, Beauden Barrett gets a start at ten while George Moala comes in at outside centre for the injured Malakai Fekitoa.
There is also a Test debut for Highlanders' loosie Elliot Dixon who comes in on the flank for Blues man Jerome Kaino.
The Dragons were once again brave in defeat but you can’t help but feel there is a huge gulf in class between the tourists and the All Blacks.
Yes, Warren Gatland’s men have managed to keep things pretty tight before the half-time hooter blew in both of the first two Tests but they’ve struggled to keep pace with the All Blacks during the second stanzas.
While one could cite injuries or fitness levels as the determining factors in the Dragons going down by scorelines in excess of 13 points, it would be foolhardy to overlook the gap in talent between the two sides.
They shouldn’t be embarrassed, though. Any side who takes on the All Blacks this year is likely to end up on the wrong side of a large scoreline regardless of whether the game is played within New Zealand’s borders or outside of them.
So what now for the Dragons? Well, they’ve lost another stalwart this week and I honestly think they’ll want to hop on a plane and make their way back to European shores as soon as possible.
The latest Welsh player to have picked up an injury is prop, Gethin Jenkins. Rob Evans will take Jenkins’ spot in the starting front row. He will be joined by Tomas Francis who comes in for Samson Lee.
Verdict: New Zealand (-21.5) 9/10
This series has annoyed the living daylights out of me. I’ve backed New Zealand to twice clear the handicap and on both occasions they’ve come up short. I do suspect, however, that it will be different this time around. Back the hosts to clear the 21.5 margin at 9/10.