New Zealand's fallibility leaves Wales optimistic

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Wales step into the Waikato Stadium here today knowing only their very best will prevent another depressing day for the national game.

It is now eight months and as many games since Wales last won a Test match - a statistic that effectively makes this the most unsuccessful side in the country's rugby history. However, the improvement against Australia in Sydney last weekend and England's win over New Zealand has given rise to a new optimism.

The All Black captain Reuben Thorne, so lavish in his praise about his own side ahead of the England game, spent much of Thursday's media briefing waxing lyrical about the Welsh visitors.

"You only have to look at last weekend to see which side is playing the better rugby," Thorne said. "They come here off a good performance against the Wallabies and will be confident of doing well.

"We have watched that game and there were some outstanding displays from the likes of Colin Charvis, Martyn Williams and the young half-backs. We will have to step up from last weekend, otherwise we will find ourselves in the same position."

The New Zealand coach, John Mitchell, has made eight changes with the emphasis very much on blooding a few relatively new faces ahead of the Tri-Nations Championship.

It will also be a special day for the Wales coach Steve Hansen who gets a chance to coach Wales against his home country on New Zealand soil. Hansen coached Canterbury Crusaders early in his career and will get a warm welcome here today.

"It will be a special occasion although I will not allow sentiment to get in the way of anything else," he said. "Yes, they have made changes, but that won't affect too much. As I have found out before, there is no such thing as a poor All Black, so you can expect to see 15 top-class players out there. And all of them will be keen to prove that they are good enough to play in the Tri-Nations and World Cup.

"We have resisted change because we want to grow as a side and it's important that we stick together as a bunch and learn how to play with each other on the toughest stage."

Wales have made just one change from the side that lost 30-10 in Sydney with Llanelli's Dafydd Jones replacing Jonathan Thomas on the blindside flank.

New Zealand (v Wales, Hamilton, today, 8.0am BST): M Muliaina; D Howlett, T Umaga, D Carter, J Rokocoko; C Spencer, S Devine; J Collins, M Holah, R Thorne (capt), C Jack, A Williams, C Hoeft, K Mealamu, K Meeuws. Replacements: A Oliver, D Hewett, B Thorn, R McCaw, B Kelleher, A Mauger, C Ralph.

Wales: R Williams; M Jones, J Robinson, M Taylor, T Shanklin; S Jones, G Cooper; I Thomas, R McBryde, G Jenkins, G Llewellyn, R Sidoli, D Jones, M Williams (capt), C Charvis. Replacements: M Davies, B Evans, C Wyatt, J Thomas, D Peel, C Sweeney, G Henson.

Referee: A Lewis (Irl).

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