Seeing as they have been on the bloody end of so many maulings against them in the last half-century, no Wales player can feel entirely safe when the All Blacks are in town, but that has apparently applied doubly so in the last few twitchy days at the Vale of Glamorgan hotel. In selecting the same starting XV which ran South Africa so close 10 days ago, coach Warren Gatland yesterday all but admitted that he seriously considered dropping his captain, Ryan Jones.
"There were some positions we debated heavily – wing, nines and 10s and the loose-forwards," said Gatland before being asked specifically about Jones, the back-rower who has yet to hit his best form this season. " I've spoken to Ryan. In terms of the Canada game last week, we talked about two or three high-balls and just a little bit more accuracy. The message we are sending out is, 'it doesn't matter who you are, you've got to perform'. There is no guaranteed selection."
While Jones's demotion would have been unexpected, that of Shane Williams would have been unthinkable. After breaking his nation's try-scoring record in the Grand Slam season just gone, the wing is hot favourite to pick up the International Rugby Board's best player "gong" on Sunday. Yet Williams was behind the 19-year-old Leigh Halfpenny when it came to the pecking order for Saturday's encounter as Wales try to end a barren run against New Zealand stretching back to 1953.
"Given Leigh's performances in the first two games, he was the pick of the three wings," said Gatland. "It would have been pretty unfair to drop him." In the event, it was Mark Jones who was overlooked. Elsewhere, Gareth Cooper was preferred to Dwayne Peel at scrum-half and James Hook will be given until tomorrow to prove he has sufficiently recovered from a knee injury to take his place on the bench.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Blues), T Shanklin (Blues), J Roberts (Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A Wyn Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Blues), A Powell (Blues). Replacements: R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp (Blues), L Charteris (Dragons), Dafydd Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale), J Hook (Ospreys) or D Biggar (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys).