Hurt Welsh in search of grit and redemption

JAMIE ROBERTS: "The scrutiny you receive in the limelight of professional sport is something taken out of context."
JAMIE ROBERTS: "The scrutiny you receive in the limelight of professional sport is something taken out of context."

Pride is a powerful tool, particularly when it's been questioned.

Call it a hunch, but the All Blacks are in for a battle at Millennium Stadium on Sunday (NZ time).

The Welsh have been written off by their own media, their players abused on Twitter and Facebook, and their courage questioned by former greats after their latest loss, to Samoa.

So there was a steely resolve and a distinct lack of bravado at the team's Vale of Glamorgan training base yesterday.

It is usual in test week in Cardiff for the home side to talk themselves up. They have 59 years worth of pent-up hope to expel from their hearts and don't miss the chance to pour it out with all they have. Not this time.

On Monday night the Welsh squad watched a video of former wing Shane Williams' last test.

In it they saw the diminutive No 11 score a try with the last touch of his 87-test career. More importantly they saw his speech at fulltime when, with tears rolling down his face and his two young children in his arms, he spoke of his pride for the jersey.

Wales lost that day, 24-18 to Australia, but Williams epitomised the never-say-die attitude coach Warren Gatland will ask for against the All Blacks.

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said of his players: "We know how hard they work and the effort and detail and attitude. We've never questioned their attitude and never will."

And so it was a measured, realistic, almost contrite Wales that fronted media as their team was named.

"We need to pull together as a group. There is only one group of players who can turn it around, and that is us. No-one else is going to do it. There's no magic wand," centre Jamie Roberts said.

No visions of grandeur here. They might not win, but they'll give it plenty.

Few know better the emotions within the Welsh camp than All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

And perhaps he also knows the comforts of Edinburgh and Rome are about to be replaced by a truer test of grit.

Maybe it's why he took his squad 19 kilometres out of town to the muddy bog of Pontypridd, where the backdrop was an old building prefab being demolished by a digger.

The All Blacks' training session was a thorough affair in persistent and cold rain, one that suggested they know nothing will come easy this week.

The heavy ground made handling and footwork difficult and saw hooker Keven Mealamu limited to throwing to the lineouts as he looked after his dodgy calf.

It may open the door for Dane Coles to sit on the bench when the team is named later today.

Halfback Aaron Smith finished with his knee wrapped in an ice pack, but otherwise looked fine, while first five-eighth Dan Carter spent the final 15 minutes on the sidelines, to protect his precious legs from fatigue. It was nothing to fret over and normal procedure, according to team management.

If Hansen's comments so far are anything to go by, Smith and Carter are likely to be in a starting side based on being the incumbents who have played the majority of the season.

A question mark remains over back Beauden Barrett (ribs) who missed parts of training along with utility Tamati Ellison (toe), who is not available this week, but now able to jog freely.

Contact Toby Robson
Chief rugby writer
Twitter: @TobyRobsonNZ

The Dominion Post