Gatland makes five changes to side to face ABs

Last updated 06:35 21/11/2012
Sam Warburton
Reuters
CAPTAINS BACK: Sam Warburton rejoins the side for the test against the All Blacks.

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Warren Gatland's return as coach has coincided with five changes to the Wales side to play New Zealand this weekend in an effort to avoid its longest losing run in nine years.

Gatland concentrated on finding candidates for next year's British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in the first two weekends of the autumn internationals, but flagged that he would take the Wales reins back from assistant Rob Howley for the last two matches of the year against the All Blacks and Wallabies.

He takes over a side which has lost its way and five tests in a row, with home defeats this month to Argentina and Samoa. Another loss at Millennium Stadium would mark Wales' worst run since 2003, when it lost 10 in a row.

Following the 26-19 loss to Samoa on Friday, recalls were issued on Tuesday to captain and flanker Sam Warburton, hooker Matthew Rees, lock Luke Charteris, first five Rhys Priestland and centre Jonathan Davies.

Warburton takes over from Justin Tipuric, former skipper Rees is in for Richard Hibbard, and Charteris, who came off the bench against Samoa, takes over from Ian Evans, who is struggling with a knee complaint.

Priestland resumes where he finished off against Samoa, having gone on for Biggar, who injured his right shoulder in a ruck.

Davies has got over a groin problem to make his first appearance of the month for the demoted Ashley Beck.

"No one is more disappointed than the players and the coaches with how things have gone in the last two weeks," Gatland said.

"But those supporters who have been with us over the last 18 months know, just as we do, that we are a better side than we have displayed so far, and we will be looking to show that on Saturday.

"This New Zealand team is one of the best rugby sides to have ever played the game, so it will be a privilege to be able to test ourselves against them."

Meanwhile, the All Blacks said fullback Israel Dagg will be available after hurting his tailbone in the 51-22 defeat of Scotland and missing last weekend's 42-10 win over Italy in Rome.

Assistant coach Ian Foster said they're preparing for a backlash from the Welsh.

"We've kept an eye on their last two games and it probably hasn't gone as well as they wanted," Foster said. "But the same could be said of us. We played two very fired-up teams, Scotland and Italy, who caused us issues throughout the game. We expect nothing different this week, really.

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"But while there are questions over their recent form their eyes are on this game and we know there will be plenty of heat coming our way.

"When you've lost a couple, a game like this can be ideal as it makes sure your focus is sharp. We're expecting a very passionate Welsh team who carry hard, are very physical at the breakdown and like to play."

The All Blacks side will be named tomorrow.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Ryan Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Aaron Jarvis, Matthew Rees, Paul James. Reserves: Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins, Scott Andrews, Aaron Shingler, Justin Tipuric, Tavis Knoyle, James Hook, Scott Williams.

- AP

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