JONATHAN DAVIES RETURNED from a shoulder injury on Tuesday as Wales coach Warren Gatland named a side showing nine changes from the team that struggled to see off Fiji last weekend for the clash with world champions New Zealand at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Davies, who has been out of action for three weeks, resumes his centre partnership with Jamie Roberts, in the only personnel change to the team beaten by Australia in Cardiff a fortnight ago.
Elsewhere in the back division Leigh Halfpenny has recovered from concussion to displace Liam Williams, while fly-half Dan Biggar (groin) and scrum-half Rhys Webb (neck) are also fit to return.
Up front, hooker Richard Hibbard also starts following his appearance for English Premiership side Gloucester last week that led to an angry response from Gatland after Wales had ruled him out of the Fiji match because of an ankle problem.
Hibbard was one of several forwards returning to Test action as Gatland selected the same pack that played in the 33-28 defeat by Australia, with captain Sam Warburton returning to the back row, locks Jake Ball and Alun Wyn Jones and prop Paul James all recalled for the clash with the All Blacks.
Prop Gethin Jenkins, who captained Wales to a 17-13 victory over Fiji, was ruled out with a hamstring strain.
Davies was injured playing for French side Clermont in their European Champions Cup clash against English club Sale on October 26 but, such is his importance to Wales, he has been recalled as soon as possible.
Scott Williams missed out on a place in the matchday 23, with Liam Williams, James Hook and Mike Phillips providing bench cover for the backs.
– Experienced team –
“It is pretty much the same side that played against Australia and it’s a boost to have a few players back from injury,” Gatland said.
“It’s one of the most experienced teams we have put out,” the New Zealander added.
“A couple of decisions have been forced upon us. Gethin Jenkins has a hamstring strain, (lock) Bradley Davies hasn’t trained for the first couple of days and Liam Williams had a bit of an ankle knock at the weekend and it was a big call on him, but he will start on the bench.
Wales, in an error-strewn display, failed to score a point after half-time against the Pacific Islanders even though Fiji played the majority of the match a man down after prop Campese Ma’afu was first sin-binned and then sent off.
It was far from an ideal way to prepare for a match with the All Blacks, a team Wales have not beaten since a 1-8 triumph in Cardiff in 1953 and with their losing run against New Zealand now standing at 25 successive Tests.
Wales’s last victory over one of the southern hemisphere ‘big three’ of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia was a win against the Wallabies in 2008, with Gatland’s men suffering 21 straight defeats combined by the trio.
A largely second-string New Zealand, coached by former Wales boss Steve Hansen, saw off Scotland 24-16 in Edinburgh last weekend but Gatland forecast his compatriots, due to name their side on Thursday, would be at their best come kick-off in Cardiff.
“We are expecting another clinical performance from the All Blacks,” he said. “We need to match their intensity and aggression.
“The players are obviously excited about the opportunity to face the number one side at a packed Millennium Stadium. We have named an experienced team and we are really looking forward to it.”
Wales team to face New Zealand:
14. Alex Cuthbert
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Jamie Roberts
11. George North
10. Dan Biggar
9. Rhys Webb
1. Paul James
2. Richard Hibbard
3. Samson Lee
4. Jake Ball
5. Alun Wyn Jones
6. Dan Lydiate
7. Sam Warburton (captain)
8. Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Nicky Smith, Rhodri Jones, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Liam Williams.
– © AFP, 2014
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