CARDIFF (Reuters) - Wales coach Warren Gatland has kept faith with the pack that played in the defeat by Australia earlier this month as his side take on world champions New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Having been forced into a shuffle of his backline through injury, Gatland has stuck with the forwards that played in the 29-21 loss to the Wallabies on Nov. 11 as he looks to mastermind a first Welsh victory over the All Blacks in 64 years.
Alun Wyn Jones is back as captain having been rested for the narrow 13-6 victory over Georgia last weekend and forms a second row partnership with Jake Ball.
Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi and Taulupe Faletau make up the loose-forward trio, while the front row comprises Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis.
“It’s great to name an unchanged pack from the Australia match. We were pleased with a lot of aspects of our second half performance in that match so we are looking to build on that on Saturday,” Gatland said in a media release from the Welsh Rugby Union on Thursday.
Wales lost wings Liam Williams and Alex Cuthbert to injury after the Georgia win, to be replaced by Steff Evans and Hallam Amos, while the absence of Jonathan Davies for six months with a foot injury picked up in the dying seconds against Australia means that Scott Williams starts at outside centre, with Owen Williams inside him in the number 12 jersey.
“We have a couple of injuries in the backline but we also have players on form starting. Steff Evans and Hallam Amos are both on form and we are excited to see what they can do,” New Zealand-born Gatland said.
“We have spoken heavily about opportunity this autumn and there is no greater opportunity than lining up against the world champions.”
For Gatland it would be a personal triumph to end Wales’ 29-game losing streak to the All Blacks having felt unfairly criticised by New Zealand media after the drawn series between the world champions and his British & Irish Lions in June.
Wales team to face New Zealand on Saturday (1715GMT):
15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Hallam Amos, 13-Scott Williams, 12-Owen Williams, 11-Steff Evans, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Rhys Webb, 8-Taulupe Faletau, 7-Josh Navidi, 6-Aaron Shingler, 5-Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4-Jake Ball, 3-Tomas Francis, 2-Ken Owens, 1-Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16-Kristian Dacey, 17-Wyn Jones, 18-Leon Brown, 19-Cory Hill, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Gareth Davies, 22-Rhys Priestland, 23-Jamie Roberts.
Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ken Ferris