Wales can upset odds against the All Blacks, insists Byrne

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The Independent Online

The form book may insist otherwise but Lee Byrne believes Wales, for all their recent struggles, can inflict a rare defeat on New Zealand this evening and deny the All Blacks a seemingly inevitable Grand Slam.

It is an interesting view, given that Wales return to the Millennium Stadium just eight days after failing to beat Fiji, while the All Blacks were just a missed Dan Carter conversion away from putting 40 points on Ireland in Dublin.

The fixture's history can hardly be ignored, either. New Zealand have beaten Wales the last 23 times they have met, with 11 times in the professional era, including six wins in Cardiff. The All Blacks were also undefeated in taking the 2010 Tri-Nations title.

Wales, in the starkest of contrasts, have toppled only Scotland and Italy this year. Even so Byrne, who made his Test debut against New Zealand five years ago, still fancies their chances of upsetting the 1-33 favourites.

"We have been written off this week, probably more so than ever before," he admitted. "But I know the strength and character of the boys, and I know we are capable of doing it. Being labelled the underdogs just gives us great motivation to go out and put up a good performance. We are capable, it's just believing in ourselves. If you can't get up for playing against the All Blacks, there is no point playing rugby. They are the best team in the world.

"Believe it or not, training has been the best it has been this week. Playing the All Blacks at a full Millennium Stadium, there is no better feeling in rugby. This weekend we want to put things right for everybody."

The full-back Byrne is one of six survivors in the starting line-up from the drawn debacle with Fiji, a list that includes the Ospreys forward Ryan Jones, who many pundits believe was made a scapegoat for that miserable result and performance. Jones led Wales last Friday but gave away an injury-time penalty which cost victory.

The national coach, Warren Gatland, then told the players that the hooker Matthew Rees would resume the captaincy against New Zealand before informing the media – all within an hour of the final whistle. Gatland later rejected the scapegoat accusations, stating: "The [captaincy] decision wasn't made after the Fijian match.

"I had spoken to Matthew about this last week, I had spoken to some senior players, I informed the Ospreys before the match this was going to happen, and I decided to make the announcement in the changing room after the game. It wasn't a knee-jerk reaction after the Fiji match, as people are trying to portray it."

Wales: Byrne; North, Shanklin, Hook, James; Jones, Phillips; Jenkins, Rees (capt), A Jones, B Davies, A-W Jones, Lydiate, Warburton, R Jones. Replacements Bennett, James, Thomas, Powell, Williams, Rees, Bishop

New Zealand: Muliaina; Toeava, Smith, Williams, Gear; Carter, Cowan; Woodcock, Mealamu, Franks, Thorn, Whitelock, Kaino, McCaw (capt), Read. Replacements Hore, Afoa, Boric, Braid, Ellis, Donald, Nonu.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).