Wales face a demanding Autumn Nations Series opener on Saturday when they tackle New Zealand at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
Head coach Wayne Pivac has seen his plans hit by injuries, illness and unavailability as Wales prepare to meet an All Blacks team fresh from securing another Rugby Championship title.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into the game.
It is hard enough for any team to threaten New Zealand with a full roster of players, yet alone with 20 unavailable, but that is the stark fact staring Pivac full in the face. Seven England-based players could not be considered because the game falls outside World Rugby’s autumn window and therefore they are not released by Gallagher Premiership clubs, while another 13 are either injured, ill or recovering from injury or surgery. It is some list, too, featuring British and Irish Lions Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Ken Owens, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate.
Rugby is played on grass, not paper, but the history books show overwhelming All Blacks dominance in this fixture. It is 68 years since Wales last toppled New Zealand, losing on 31 successive occasions, including 16 times at home. Of those defeats, 25 losses were by 10 points or more, and the closest Wales have come to a win during the professional era was in 2004, when they suffered a 26-25 reversal. While Wales’ playing resources have been ravaged, New Zealand are fully-loaded. It could be another long day at the office.
Ospreys fly-half Anscombe suffered a catastrophic knee injury during Wales’ World Cup warm-up game against England at Twickenham in August 2019, with surgery being required during a long road back to fitness. He only returned to action for the Ospreys last month, and has played three games in the United Rugby Championship. But he is now back in Test rugby this weekend against the country of his birth, fully fit and ready to resume a 27-cap international career, having arguably achieved his biggest victory.
Wales have never been short of outstanding openside flankers, with Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric the latest to maintain a proud tradition of world-class quality. In Basham and James Botham, who is currently injured, Wales have two more exciting prospects, and 21-year-old Basham gains a first Test start this weekend after three appearances off the bench. He will have his Dragons back-row colleagues Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright for company, and it represents a huge opportunity for a player who has emerged through the grass-roots club game at Talywain, Bedwas and Cross Keys. Basham has risen to every challenge so far in his career.
All Blacks fly-half Barrett will become New Zealand’s 11th rugby union Test centurion when he wins his 100th cap on Saturday. He will reach the landmark nine years after his international debut, and he remains a match-winner of the highest class. Barrett, world player of the year in 2016 and 2017, is closing in on 700 Test points, and amid a stunning array of All Blacks talent on show this weekend, he continues to shine brightest. Wales know all about him and his game-breaking prowess, but stopping another Barrett-inspired blockbusting New Zealand performance is just one of the many challenges facing Pivac’s players.