2021 Wales vs New Zealand All Blacks

Shorthanded Wales Looks To Finally End Drought Over All Blacks

Shorthanded Wales Looks To Finally End Drought Over All Blacks

Wales has a lofty task ahead of them as they go up against world No. 2 New Zealand.

Oct 28, 2021 by Briar Napier
Shorthanded Wales Looks To Finally End Drought Over All Blacks

To merely call Wales rugby an underdog against New Zealand heading into their Autumn Nations Series opener at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff might be understating it by a tad. 

Percy Faith’s “The Song From Moulin Rouge” was Billboard’s year-end top single for 1953—the last time Wales beat New Zealand in rugby—making for a 31-match stretch of All Blacks dominance. To make matters more complicated for Wales, at least 15 players will be unavailable this weekend because of injuries and player unavailability, mainly due to English-based players not being cleared to play due to the match falling outside the international Test window.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Welsh coach Wayne Pivac faces a tall task ahead.

Nonetheless, Wales goes forth with its first competitive fixtures since winning the Six Nations championship in March, with the two squads meeting for the first time since the third-place match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. But New Zealand—on a tear for most of the year—won’t let anything come easy. 

Here’s a look on each team’s run of form leading into Saturday, along with who to look out for as Wales attempts to salvage an upset win:

New Zealand

World ranking: No. 2

Breakdown: After a disastrous end to 2020 that saw the All Blacks lose consecutive matches for the first time since 2011 (including a shock loss to Argentina), coach Ian Foster’s side have since reestablished the fact that they will continue to be taken seriously as one of the world’s elite.

New Zealand has won 11 of its last 12 matches since losing two in-a-row, with the lone defeat coming in a narrow 31-29 decision over current world No. 1 South Africa on Oct. 2. The All Blacks responded to the loss by beating the brakes off the United States three weeks later, hitting the century mark in a 104-14 romp at Fedex Field in Landover, Md., home of the NFL’s Washington Football Team. It also meant that New Zealand had scored 100 points in a Test match twice in a single year for the first time after the All Blacks also did it against Tonga in July.

Player to watch: Sam Whitelock (lock, 127 caps)

Whitelock, currently third all-time for New Zealand in international appearances, has been a bruising force for the All Blacks for over a decade at an imposing 6-foot-6 and nearly 260 pounds. He filled in as captain for the squad in the United States win and the 33-year-old has often been the man New Zealand turns to whenever normal captain Sam Cane isn’t up to fitness, like he hasn’t been for most of the year in recovery from a pectoral muscle injury.

Whitelock is the engine behind arguably the world’s most frenetic team. The All Blacks’ 16 tries and record margin of victory against the U.S. proved it. 

“We always want to speed it up a little bit, speed the tempo,” Whitelock said to The Associated Press following the blowout win over the Americans. “It showed.”


World ranking: No. 9

Breakdown: Wales needed a bit of extra magic to win the Six Nations in the spring after a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2020, with a Scotland win over France on the final day clinching the country’s 28th outright Six Nations title following five wins from six games.

It’ll need a lot more than just magic to end a decades-long drought over New Zealand on Saturday.

Two critical pieces from that silverware-winning side, fly-half Dan Biggar (36 points) and wing Louis Rees-Zammit (four tries), won’t be in Cardiff this weekend as Premiership Rugby rules haven’t permitted them to travel outside the international window. But the pieces that will be in Wales are going to be treated to a packed house — Millenium Stadium is expected to be sold out for the first time since before COVID-19 — as the All Blacks plant feet on European soil for the first time since 2018.

"Everyone can say it's outside the window or whatever, but it's a chance to play the All Blacks in a packed stadium — you wouldn't turn that down, would you?” Wales tighthead prop Tomas Francis told WalesOnline. 

Player to watch: Alun Wyn Jones (lock, 148 caps)

The world’s most-capped rugby union player (he has an additional 12 appearances with the British & Irish Lions), the 36-year-old Welsh captain is showing no signs of slowing down at his age as he’ll need to be an experienced head in the fray against one of the world’s most storied rugby nations.

Jones is well-aware of Wales’ dubious history playing the All Blacks, but the mentality both he and the squad are planning to bring to Cardiff involves him hoping they can put on a show for the capacity crowd.

“We are well aware of the history of the fixture and the quality of players New Zealand always have,” he told WalesOnline. “Obviously the odds are stacked against us and I will leave those people deal with the odds. .... That needs to be our focus, the rugby first and foremost. If we get that right I know we are going to be in a decent position.”