Gatland goes on reconnaissance for New Zealand return trip in 2011

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There is only one thing worse in rugby than leaving New Zealand with a diminished sense of self-respect, and that is leaving in the knowledge that a return trip is just around the corner.

The next time Wales play in this city will be in 15 months, when they take on Samoa in the second match of their 2011 World Cup campaign, and they will find themselves here again at the end of the pool stage, against Fiji. The Welsh have an unfortunate habit of losing to Pacific Islands teams at global tournaments so the more reconnaissance they can do on this trip, the better.

Many people expect next year's competition to signal the end of Warren Gatland's tenure as national coach, so the former All Black hooker's chances of beating a major southern hemisphere nation on their own turf are fast disappearing. This morning's game against his own countrymen is not obviously a golden opportunity, given the hiding dished out to the tourists in Dunedin a week ago, but a fully competitive performance will at least raise Gatland's spirits after the frustrations of the last two seasons.

Enforced changes to the All Blacks' starting line-up – no Israel Dagg at full-back, no Conrad Smith at centre – have hardly plunged the hosts into a pit of despond. "We won't be dropping our standards just because a couple of people are injured," said the All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw, yesterday. "But we respect this Welsh team. We had a pretty handy win in Dunedin, but it was not until the end of the game that we really got away from them."

The big questions today surround the Ospreys outside-half Dan Biggar, who will probably return next year as first-choice No 10. His direct opponent? Daniel Carter, who is to the world's backs what McCaw is to the world's forwards. There is no greater challenge for a stand-off in the whole of rugby union.

Comments