All Blacks to pounce on Wales' self-doubt

LIAM NAPIER IN CARDIFF
Last updated 12:13 22/11/2012
Kieran Read STD
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KIERAN READ: "If you can keep pressure on teams and really apply that from the start and keep it on then there could be doubts in some teams and whether they can stick with us."

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Inflicting further self-doubt and exposing Wales' mental frailties could be a major trump card for the All Blacks this week.

On many occasions, as Warren Gatland explains, Wales have talked themselves out of winning - before a ball has been kicked.

Much like smothering grey clouds and persistent rain, belief is a sizeable question mark hanging over the Welsh training base in Cardiff. It's a problematic, inherent weakness of this team, one that needs to be rectified if they are to restore some pride at Millennium Stadium on Sunday (NZT). 

"There are times in the past where Welsh teams have lost the games before they've taken the field," Gatland, the Welsh coach, admitted.

The former Waikato hooker saw it first-hand with much of this same group of men in the World Cup last year. Wales blew the chance to roll the-then defending world champions South Africa.

After leading 10-6 at half-time, the Red Dragons were left to rue a missed James Hook penalty and Rhys Priestland's pulled dropped goal from in-front of the posts. 

And that wasn't the first time Wales suffered a one-point defeat they should have won. 

In his 25th test and on debut as All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw recalls being under the pump in 2004 - out on his feet defending the line. Down by four points, Wales took the penalty, instead of going for the jugular, and lost 25-24 to extend their now 59-year, 24-game drought against the men in black.

In June this year there was ample evidence of the growing issue against their Southern Hemisphere rivals.

The Six Nations champions should have beaten the Wallabies twice on their three-test tour. There is a sense their subsequent inconsolable mindset remains a burden which contributed to shock losses to Argentina and Samoa in the past two weeks. 

"It was pretty hard to take at the time, particularly the second loss," Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards said. "I know how much effort the players put in. Then a similar thing happened with four minutes to go in the third test."     

After Gatland rejoined the Welsh this week, he spoke of how his young men had to learn to cope with criticism and mental pressure. He's had just six days to instil some form of self-belief. 

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"If you just try and compete and play with them [the All Blacks] you're going to come off second best. You got to be prepared to do things a little bit differently," Gatland said, hinting lessons had been learned. "We're going to hopefully throw something a little different at the All Blacks. We need to put them under some pressure. You've got to take a few risks."

The All Blacks are well aware Wales' collective confidence is shot after five successive defeats. Like Predators, they will prey on their opponent's weaknesses.

"If you can keep pressure on teams and really apply that from the start and keep it on then there could be doubts in some teams and whether they can stick with us," All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read explained. "That's what we're trying to achieve. Sometimes it takes longer than others.

"It's hard to know in terms of how strong they are [mentally] but it's something we pride ourselves on. We've got a great karma and leadership group that keeps the team really grounded and focused on what we need to achieve. That's been great for our side so far this year."

Meanwhile, All Black wings Hosea Gear and Julian Savea have been nominated, along with South Africa's Bryan Habana and France's Julien Malziew for IRB international try of the year.

Gear's bulldozing effort in the third test against Ireland this year is an early favourite, but Savea's second against Scotland in Edinburgh and Habana's individual chip and chase against the All Blacks in Dunedin provide strong competition.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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