All Blacks confirm Carter will start

Influential No 10 scotches Wales coach's attempts to damage New Zealand spirit
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The Independent Online

New Zealand would like everyone to know, Warren Gatland in particular, that Dan Carter will most certainly, most definitely, most undeniably be starting at the Millennium Stadium today. "He's assured me all week he will be playing," said Richie McCaw. "And he better not be lying to me."

Carter would not dare, no matter how much his calf injury still hurts. Even if it hurts as much as Gatland still claims it does. Sorry, Warren but he's playing. Richie says he is.

While much has been claimed this week – chiefly, it must be said, by the Wales coach – of New Zealand "losing their aura" there can no be suggesting any depreciation in this mystical quality on behalf of the All Blacks captain. Regardless of any annus horribilis which has seen New Zealand so far beaten – whisper it – four times, McCaw remains as brilliant as ever. Indeed, the openside flanker might even be the principal reason why it is long odds-on that his side will extend their staggering period of dominance over Wales this evening.

Yesterday, after a training session at the stadium during which Carter could be seen kicking goals for fun, McCaw highlighted the importance of the breakdown. He almost licked his lips while doing so. "It's always been an important area, but with the slightly different interpretations nowadays it's critical you get it right" he said. "And I guess we know how Craig [Joubert] refs, for sure." Joubert is South African and his southern hemisphere interpretation could be vital.

If Wales fail to front up at the breakdown they will fail, full stop. Granted, there are other important aspects. Carter's presence may be as influential as that of McCaw, while the scrum has also been highlighted as a key battle ground in the build-up. Meanwhile, the collision between Jamie Roberts and Ma'a Nonu in the midfield should really be on pay-per-view.

And then there has been all this talk of history, which somehow always overshadows a rivalry which, in truth, is unworthy of the title. Wales have not lowered the Silver Fern for 56 years and 20 Tests. "It is very rare you get the opportunity to make history in 80 minutes," was how their forwards coach, Robin McBryde, eloquently framed it. "The players know exactly what's on offer. They can make a name for themselves."

They could also make a name for the All Blacks and their coach, Graham Henry. Is he genuinely under as much pressure as Gatland clearly believes he is? By their standards it has not been a good season, but there were signs in their victory against Australia in Tokyo last weekend that their "fallibility" has been overemphasised. Henry has shown his confidence by sending out a team some way short of full-strength. Zac Guildford, just 20, makes his debut on the wing, while throughout there are players putting up hands instead of CVs. If it is a gamble in his position, Henry is a very brave man to be making it.

Except Wales are three, perhaps four, players short of maximum power themselves and Gatland's mind-games can surely be seen as the acts of a man desperate for a chink of optimism, of a man in charge of a side who insist they are getting closer but who have actually lost their last three games against New Zealand by an average of 31 points. To his credit, Rob Howley, the Wales back coach, attempted to justify his gaffer's talking down of the revered opposition. "We want to try to give our players an edge and he biggest confidence boost we can," he said. "How that is interpreted outside is entirely down to the All Blacks."

So how will they take it? McCaw suggested ominously: "I think all the comments would have helped rather than hindered our guys. No doubt about it."

So it comes down to that. What will blow up in a coach's face: Gatland's words or Henry's selection? And which will crack first: New Zealand's aura of invincibility or Wales' aura of inferiority? The somewhat inevitable answers will be given at around 7pm. If not before.

Millennium Stadium: Teams

Wales ................................. New Zealand

J Hook (Ospreys)......... 15......... M Muliaina (Chiefs)

L Halfpenny (C Blues)......... 14......... C Jane (Hurricanes)

T Shanklin (C Blues)......... 13......... C Smith (Hurricanes)

J Roberts (C Blues)......... 12......... M Nonu (Hurricanes)

S Williams (Ospreys)......... 11......... Z Guildford (Crusaders)

S Jones (Scarlets)......... 10......... D Carter (Crusaders)

G Cooper (C Blues)......... 9......... B Leonard (Chiefs)

G Jenkins (C Blues)......... 1......... W Crockett (Crusaders)

M Rees (Scarlets)......... 2......... A Hore (Hurricanes)

P James (Ospreys)......... 3......... N Tialata (Hurricanes)

A W Jones (Ospreys)......... 4......... B Thorn (Crusaders)

L Charteris (Dragons)......... 5......... J Eaton (Hurricanes)

A Powell (C Blues)......... 6......... J Kaino (A Blues)

M Williams (C Blues)......... 7......... R McCaw (Crusaders, c)

R Jones (Ospreys, c)......... 8......... K Read (Crusaders)

Replacements: H Bennett, Du Jones (both Ospreys), B Davies (C Blues), Da Jones, M Roberts, J Davies (all Scarlets), T James (C Blues)

Replacements: C Flynn, O Franks (both Crusaders), T Donnelly, A Thomson, J Cowan (all Highlanders), S Donald (Chiefs), B Smith (Highlanders)

Referee C Joubert (SA) Kick-off 5.15pm TV BBC2

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