Ian Foster says the All Blacks haven’t mentioned it and, according to Wayne Pivac, Wales haven’t had to, because the players already know it better than they want to. “It’s one of those records that’s in the media a fair bit,” Pivac says. And here it is again.
It has been 69 years since Wales last beat New Zealand, 32 games across seven decades, from a 6-0 slug-out at Arms Park in the winter of 1963 to a 38-point canter at the Principality Stadium last autumn, along the way there have been heartbreaks, one-point losses in 1978 and 2004, and humiliations, 50-point thrashings in 1988 and 2003, and everything but a Welsh victory.
Will this time be any different? The All Blacks have lost four of the 10 Tests so far this year, the last of the victories an unconvincing 38-31 win over Japan in Tokyo last Saturday. The team Foster has picked this weekend is stronger than that one: all three of Beauden, Scott, and Jordie Barrett have rejoined the squad after a family funeral. And though Sam Cane is injured and Brodie Retallick is suspended, Sam Whitelock is back and has taken over as captain, which will help fill both gaps. Wales have a few old hands back in the ranks, too, with Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, and Leigh Halfpenny all fit for the first time this year.
In their absence, Wales already broke another unwanted old record when they beat South Africa away for the first time during their summer tour. Pivac has mentioned that achievement more than once in the run-up to this fixture. “We spoke about that when we got into camp,” said Gareth Anscombe, who starts at fly-half. “We need to take confidence out of that series, because we know if we play to our potential we can cause the top teams trouble.”
Wales were only four-points away winning the first Test against South Africa, and took the second 13-12. They have won their last three in a row against Australia. “The All Blacks are the last ones we haven’t knocked off.”
Anscombe grew up in New Zealand and played for their under-20 team alongside a few of the men he will be lining up against on Saturday, which he says gives the fixture “a bit of extra spice”. Not that it needs it. “International rugby at the Principality Stadium when it’s sold out is a bit like a drug,” he says. “Once you get a taste of it, it’s the ultimate, isn’t it? And there’s no bigger occasion than the All Blacks in Cardiff.”
He can barely hide his excitement. “It’s great we have the roof closed, both teams want to play quick, both teams enjoy playing with the ball, we expect it to be a fast game, and with a sold out stadium it is the best place in the world.”
Anscombe knows this is Wales’s best chance of beating New Zealand in a long while. But he is not about to say it. “They’ve obviously had an indifferent year but they’re such a talented group, you look back at the Rugby Championship and they still won it, and still scored more tries than anyone else.”
He thinks the criticism New Zealand got after that scrappy win against Japan will give them a point to prove, too. “There’s a lot of outside noise about them being vulnerable, but they still look pretty hungry to me, and if anything that match against Japan last week has probably got them a little bit angry coming to Cardiff so we expect their best.”
Anscombe started against New Zealand last year, too, when he was only just back from a long injury layoff. His old friend and teammate Beauden Barrett picked off his very first pass and scored an interception; the memory is a reminder of just how sharp he will need to be on Saturday. “They’re just so dangerous, if you switch off for two minutes they score two tries. So we can’t afford to switch off. That’s what we’ve been talking about. Because they can come alive whenever, even when they’re down they’re just as dangerous.”
Wales, he admits, tend to start slowly in the autumn but cannot afford to this time. “We’ve got a real challenge to start with a bang.”
He continues: “The All Blacks are certainly still one of the best teams in the world. They have so many threats around the park, that’s their point of difference. Even in the pack they have so many explosive athletes that if you miss one tackle they’ll get an offload away and they’ll get behind you.
They’ve got speed to burn out wide, and then they’ve got the likes of Beaudie and Richie Mo’unga in the middle pulling the strings.
But we’ve identified some areas we think we can have a crack at. We’ll see how they come off on Saturday. We’ve talked about giving it a real go. That’s what we’ve got to worry about.”