November 21, 2012
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Gatland makes Wales changes for All Blacks

Warren Gatland wasted little time in making his presence felt upon his return as Wales coach, making five changes for Saturday's clash against world champions New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium.

The New Zealander is back in charge for Wales's final two Tests of the European autumn series, against the All Blacks and the Wallabies, after starting his preparatory work as head coach for next year's British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

In his absence, Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales have lost both their opening autumn Tests, against Argentina and Samoa, to make it five defeats in a row against all opponents.

Last year's World Cup semi-finalists have also slipped to eighth in the International Rugby Board rankings, imperilling their chances of a beneficial seeding at next month's draw for the 2015 edition in England.

Changes from last week's 26-19 loss to Samoa see starts for centre Jonathan Davies, outside-half Rhys Priestland, back-row and captain Sam Warburton, lock Luke Charteris and hooker Matthew Rees.

Davies has recovered from a groin problem to make his first appearance of the autumn series, replacing Ashley Beck.

Meanwhile Priestland comes in for Dan Biggar, not considered because of a shoulder injury, Warburton replaces Justin Tipuric, Charteris takes over from the injured Ian Evans (knee) and former Wales captain Rees packs down alongside Paul James and Aaron Jarvis.

Wales haven't beaten New Zealand since 1953, losing 24 successive Tests against the All Blacks -- who are unbeaten in 19 Tests against all-comers over the last 15 months.

"No-one is more disappointed than the players and the coaches with how things have gone in the last two weeks," Gatland said after announcing his side Tuesday.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"The hospitality shown and the way we were looked after made the experience especially memorable, and that makes it all the more special that we have the opportunity to face the best side in the world at the moment in Cardiff."

After the Australia match on December 1, Gatland will hand back control of Wales to interim head coach Rob Howley -- under whom the Welsh suffered a 3-0 series loss in Australia in June before the former Test scrum-half oversaw the defeats by Argentina and Samoa.

Howley is, however, expected to be in charge of Wales for the defence of their Six Nations title, which starts against Ireland in Cardiff on February 2.

Wales (15-1)
Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Ryan Jones; Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies; Aaron Jarvis, Matthew Rees, Paul James

Replacements: Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins, Scott Andrews, Aaron Shingler, Justin Tipuric, Tavis Knoyle, James Hook, Scott Williams

AFP

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