Rugby Union: Llewellyn's mission to prove point

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The Independent Online
Gareth Llewellyn will turn the clock back eight years when he relaunches his Welsh career against New Zealand on Saturday. Llewellyn, the Harlequins lock, faces an All Blacks side showing just one change from the team who beat England last Saturday, with the centre Walter Little being recalled in place of the injured Alaama Ieremia.

Sean Fitzpatrick, moving towards full fitness, also returns to the Test side on the bench. Zinzan Brooke, who was injured against England, has recovered, while Jonah Lomu keeps his place on the wing.

It all adds up to the familiar power-packed All Blacks, but Llewellyn knows he is under far more pressure than during his Test debut on 4 November, 1989 when the New Zealanders ran out 34-9 victors in Cardiff.

Dropped by Kevin Bowring, the national coach, following Wales' unconvincing 28-23 triumph over the United States in San Francisco four months ago, Llewellyn has won a reprieve.

An injury to Moseley's Steve Moore, possibly the most exciting Welsh second-row prospect since Llewellyn, and a committed display as the Wales A captain against New Zealand earlier this month, guaranteed the former Neath captain a 60th cap recall. "Kevin and I had a pretty high-volume discussion after I was dropped, so you could say I am determined to prove a point," Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn, still only 28 despite his wealth of international experience, will need to reproduce those high standards because Bowring has made it clear what he expects when Wales take the field before a sell-out Wembley crowd.

Bowring said: "The loss of Steve Moore is a blow because he has impressed me with his work-rate, but Gareth has responded very well to challenges that have presented themselves. I have decided to give him a chance against New Zealand, an occasion when I know he will contribute."

Llewellyn has been a virtual Wales ever-present throughout the 1990s, leading his country against South Africa, Italy and France among others, and until this summer, had featured prominently in Bowring's plans.

With the prospect of a Five Nations' Championship campaign ahead - Llewellyn's ninth if selected - followed by Wales' South Africa summer tour, he has everything to play for this weekend. "I am lot fitter than I was last season, my work-rate is much higher and I feel ready to face the All Blacks' challenge," Llewellyn said. "New Zealand have so many great players, but it is their collective ability to play effectively as a team that makes them such difficult opponents. They don't rely on individuals - all 15 do their jobs."

NEW ZEALAND (v Wales, Wembley, Saturday): C Cullen (Central Vikings); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury, capt); C Dowd (Auckland), N Hewitt (Southland), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), R Brooke (Auckland), T Randell (Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland), J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacements: S McLeod (Waikato), J Preston (Wellington), A Blowers (Auckland), C Riechelmann (Auckland), M Allen (Manawatu), S Fitzpatrick (Auckland).

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