Shanklin and Parker the key to stopping the All Blacks

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The Independent Online

Mark Jones, the erudite Wales wing, yesterday summed up the challenge awaiting his side in Cardiff this evening perhaps better, and certainly more wackily, than anyone else has.

"We have a mountain to climb," he reasoned, "which is pretty apt really because the last time we beat New Zealand was in 1953 and that was the year they first reached the top of Everest. All I can say is that if climbing Everest is as hard as beating the All Blacks then it must be bloody steep."

Jones did not go far to say it was unscalable, though. There has been a growing conviction in the Principality that at the very least their reunited Grand Slammers can push the tourists further than either France or England have in this month of humbling realisation. But pushing them close and pushing them over are two very different things as proven two years ago in Wales' agonising one-point defeat. It is a commendable consolation from which the men in red may again be forced to draw comfort.

There is just so much to these New Zealanders that at times they defy logic. Not that Gareth Jenkins, the Wales coach, has not done everything logical to offer as much defiance as possible. In Sonny Parker's selection lies the root of his method. His and Tom Shanklin's midfield muscle will be expected to plug the All Black holes they just love to burst through at the same time as prising open a few of their own. Jenkins will implore them to carry it to the visitors time and time again with the emphasis on ball retention and aggression in the tackle area. It worked for South Africa in Phokeng two months ago, although as Wales possess neither the physicality nor brutality of the Boks their mission appears doomed to glorious failure.

However, the game is likely to be quite thrilling, especially if the Welsh back three of Shane Williams, Jones and Kevin Morgan can get the space their attacking talents cry out for. Their slight, silky skills will be an intriguing match-up against the less subtle but more destructive trio of Rico Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Mils Muliaina in an encounter that should contain many high points.

In fact, there are fascinating head-to-heads everywhere; on the flanks where arguably the two best open-sides in the world - Riche McCaw and Martyn Williams - finally get the chance to lock their scavenging claws; in the front row where Duncan Jones is allowed to employ his underrated armoury against the finest prop in existence in Carl Hayman; and in the rule book from which the referee Dave Pearson may just bravely pull the letter to thwart All Black law-bending.

Then there is Dan Carter versus Stephen Jones, an unequal struggle most probably for the veteran Welshman, but still the critical one. The sacrifice for Parker's power is the creative safety net Gavin Henson provides on Jones's outside shoulder and should the returning captain not exert the control that made his inclusion a formality at the expense of the potentially brilliant James Hook then it could very well get messy.

If Wales are still in it on the hour mark, Jenkins might well be tempted to risk both his H-bombs (Henson and Hook), but as "ifs" go this is on the Jerry Collins scale of things. The bullocking blind-side, himself, is not expecting it and by that mark few of the rest of us should dare to.

"We are solely focused on finishing this tour with a bang," growled Collins. "There will be no thoughts of home or of the summer. We will empty the tank and hopefully put together a good performance that will satisfy us over the summer. Wales is a great place to tour and they have beautiful people but it would be one of the worst places to lose. They would never let you forget about it. We will do anything to win."

A rugby Everest indeed.

Millennium Stadium teams


15 K Morgan (Dragons)

14 M Jones (Scarlets)

13 T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues)

12 S Parker (Ospreys)

11 S Williams (Ospreys)

10 S Jones (Scarlets, capt)

9 D Peel (Scarlets)

1 D Jones (Ospreys)

2 R Thomas (Blues)

3 A Jones (Ospreys)

4 I Gough (Dragons)

5 I Evans (Ospreys)

6 J Thomas (Ospreys)

7 M Williams (Blues)

8 R Jones (Ospreys)

Replacements: 16 M Rees (Scarlets); 17 G Jenkins (Blues); 18 A W Jones (Ospreys); 19 A Popham (Scarlets); 20 M Phillips (Blues); 21 J Hook (Ospreys); 22 G Henson (Ospreys).

N Zealand

15 M Muliaina (Chiefs)

14 R Gear (Crusaders)

13 C Smith (Hurricanes)

12 L McAlister (Blues)

11 S Sivivatu (Chiefs)

10 D Carter (Crusaders)

9 B Kelleher (Chiefs)

1 N Tialata (Hurricanes)

2 A Oliver (Highlanders)

3 C Hayman (Highlanders)

4 K Robinson (Chiefs)

5 A Williams (Auck Blues)

6 J Collins (Hurricanes)

7 R McCaw (Crusaders, capt)

8 R So'oialo (Hurricanes)

Replacements: 16 A Hore (Hurricanes); 17 T Woodcock (Auckland Blues), 18 J Ryan (Highlanders), 19 R Thorne (Crusaders), 20 P Weepu (Hurricanes), 21 N Evans (Highlanders), 22 M Nonu (Hurricanes).