Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom (4E Sports) – After losing to Argentina and Samoa, head coach Warren Gatland has made five changes to the Wales team in preparation for Saturday’s showdown against world champion New Zealand at Millennium Stadium.
Gatland missed two games as he prepared for next summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. In his absence, Wales lost their opening two autumn Tests and dropped to eighth place in the International Rugby Board world rankings as a result.
After Wales lost to Samoa, 26-19, Friday, Gatland has decided to start center Jonathan Davies, fly-half Rhys Priestland, hooker Matthew Rees, lock Luke Charteris and skipper Sam Warburton against New Zealand.
“No one is more disappointed than the players and the coaches with how things have gone in the last two weeks,” Gatland said. “But those supporters who have been with us over the last 18 months know, just as we do, that we are a better side than we have displayed so far, and we will be looking to show that on Saturday.”
Davies, who recently recovered from a groin problem, will make his first appearance in the autumn series, replacing Ashley Beck. Priestland will take over from Dan Biggar, who was not considered because of a shoulder injury.
Meanwhile, former Wales captain Rees returns to the front-row, where he will pack down alongside Paul James and Aaron Jarvis. Charteris will replace Ian Evans, who has taken only a limited part in training due to knee trouble, while skipper Warburton takes Justin Tipuric’s place in the lineup.
“This New Zealand team is one of the best rugby sides to have ever played the game, and probably the best All Blacks team ever, so it will be a privilege to be able to test ourselves against them,” Gatland said. “Memories of the Rugby World Cup last year and touring New Zealand the previous summer are still fresh in the mind of many of the players and staff”.
With the shuffle, Wales will start with Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton, Ryan Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Aaron Jarvis, Matthew Rees and Paul James.
Replacements for Gatland will be Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins, Scott Andrews, Aaron Shingler, Justin Tipuric, Tavis Knoyle, James Hook and Scott Williams.