Wobbly Welsh 'there for the taking' - but be wary

Last updated 13:00 22/11/2012

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Don't make the mistake of assuming that the Welsh rugby team's recent inadequacies will automatically roll over into Sunday morning's test against the All Blacks at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Will the All Blacks win? Probably. Will they do it comfortably? Hopefully. But one thing you can guarantee is that Warren Gatland will have his players operating at a level above anything they've been able to generate over the past few months.

Five consecutive defeats, three against the Wallabies and the last two against Argentina and Samoa, have Gatland desperately trying to salvage something, anything, from the rubble of Wales' Six Nations success.

He wasn't on board for any of the five losses and, given the inevitable mental scar tissue from the team's staggering string of defeats, he has a monumental job on his hands. Ironically, though, one key factor in his favour is that Wales are facing the world champion All Blacks.

What better motivation does Gatland have to throw at his players than redemption against their most respected adversary, particularly when they now have absolutely nothing to lose?

Clearly, there have been distractions that Gatland could have done without, like putting out the fires created by his defence coach Shaun Edwards' now infamous World Cup quote that the All Blacks were "there for the taking" had Wales met them in the final.

Wales didn't make the final - they never have, and while it might be a stretch to suggest they never will, Edwards' hollow and rather churlish response has apparently hit a nerve at the most inconvenient time for Gatland. Misquoted? Maybe, although judging by Aaron Cruden's comments this week, some of the All Blacks appear to have lapped up Edwards' statement and are using it as an added spur for Sunday's contest.

Wales were unlucky against the Wallabies, and they won't be the only team to unravel against opposition as physically demanding as Argentina and Samoa. However, while the All Blacks might acknowledge this, they're all about maintaining their own heady standards, exemplified last week by Cory Jane's spectacular second-half cameo performance against Italy.

Jane's wide-ranging skills, searing pace, skilful footwork, devastating fend and reliability under the high ball make him a vital asset and now a selection certainty.

The current All Blacks squad is littered with class acts, and Jane is clearly among them. He's accepted his revised role in the overall scheme of things, and this has meant forsaking his preferred fullback's jersey and adjusting to life at the end of the chain.

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The consummate and clinical ease with which Jane executed his albeit abridged duties in Italy's downfall personifies why this All Blacks team remains among the most entertaining in international rugby.

And it's why they'll still be too good for Wales on Sunday.

- Nelson

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