Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Welsh to test skills on All Blacks


Stephen Jones of Wales is tackled by Cristian Petre of Romania in the Autumn series at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales on Nov. 12. Wales won the match.


Graham Henry and Steve Hansen spent years trying to turn around the fortunes of the Welsh national rugby team and make it capable of beating the likes of New Zealand.

Henry and Hansen, both Kiwis, are now in charge of the All Blacks and return to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium to sit on the visitor's bench today.

"I think they can beat any side in the world and they could do that tomorrow," said Henry, who coached Wales from 1999-2002 before Hansen took over for two more years.

"I thought the Welsh team were the big improvers in the World Cup and I am just delighted to see young guys coming through who we thought were going to be good players.

"We picked up Dwayne Peel as an 18-year-old and thought he was going to be the future. Stephen Jones has always been a special player and he looks like he has improved. Playing in France has put an extra edge on him, you need new environments and experiences to challenge yourself."

In charge of a New Zealand team which is underachieving by its own high standards, Henry and Hansen know what it's like to be in charge of a a side from a rugby-mad country.

"There are a lot more expectations from the nation and you have to deal with that," Hansen said in reference to his time in charge of Wales before he handed over to Mike Ruddock. "It tested your internal beliefs and challenged you to really stand by what you believed in.

"We were under a lot of pressure, we lost 11 games in a row. We stuck by what was right and I think we have been proved to be right. That has got to be good for you."

A Welsh victory today, however, will be a major upset.

New Zealand has a 17-3 head-to-head record against the Welsh, although their last meeting was a thriller at the World Cup in Sydney a year ago when the All Blacks won 53-37.


* Wales: Gareth Thomas (captain), Tom Shanklin, Sonny Parker, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Dwayne Peel; Adam Jones, Methin Davies, Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Llewellyn, Brent Cockbain, Michael Owen, Colin Charvis, Dafydd Jones

* Replacements: Steve Jones, Duncan Jones, Ryan Jones, Martyn Williams, Gareth Cooper, Ceri Sweeney, Rhys Williams

* New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Doug Howlett, Casey Laulala, Aaron Mauger, Joe Rokocoko; Daniel Carter, Piru Weepu; Greg Somerville, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ali Williams, Chris Jack, Mose Tuiali'i, Richie McCaw (captain), Rodney So'oialo

* Replacements: Anton Oliver, Carl Hayman, Ruben Thorne, Marty Holah, Byron Kelleher, Ma'a Nonu, Rico Gear

* Referee: Tony Spreadbury, England

The last time France tried winning nine tests in a row, Les Bleus were stopped by Los Pumas.

More than two years later, Argentina can end France's national record bid again, but far from the cozy and rowdy confines of its Buenos Aires home.

The teams meet for the 38th time on Saturday in Marseilles, where France has never lost. France also has gone undefeated for 12 months, winning eight consecutive tests this year, and matching the record of the team in 2001-2002.

The parallels with that team are uncanny: Then as now, France lost to New Zealand then swept the Six Nations. The streak ended in June 2002 in a pulsating 28-27 loss to Argentina at Velez Sarsfeld.

That began the present three-match winning run against France for Argentina, which has prompted the home side not to underestimate the visitors, and guard against any complacency, despite their yearlong roll of victories.

France convincingly beat World Cup runner-up Australia 27-14 in Paris last weekend, and manager Jo Maso warned against any comedown. France named an unchanged side, and called upon scrumhalf Frederic Michalak and fullback Nicolas Brusque to improve their kicking game. Good ball on attack was frequently wasted against the Wallabies by being put to boot, and turning it over unnecessarily.

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