LIAM NAPIER IN CARDIFF
Inflicting further self-doubt and exposing Wales' mental frailties could be a major trump card for the All Blacks this week.
On many occasions, as Warren Gatland explains, Wales have talked themselves out of winning - before a ball has been kicked.
Much like smothering grey clouds and persistent rain, belief is a
sizeable question mark hanging over the Welsh training base in Cardiff.
It's a problematic, inherent weakness of this team, one that needs to
be rectified if they are to restore some pride at Millennium Stadium on
"There are times in the past where Welsh teams have lost the games
before they've taken the field," Gatland, the Welsh coach, admitted.
The former Waikato hooker saw it first-hand with much of this same
group of men in the World Cup last year. Wales blew the chance to roll
the-then defending world champions South Africa.
After leading 10-6 at half-time, the Red Dragons were left to rue a
missed James Hook penalty and Rhys Priestland's pulled dropped goal
from in-front of the posts.
And that wasn't the first time Wales suffered a one-point defeat they should have won.
In his 25th test and on debut as All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw
recalls being under the pump in 2004 - out on his feet defending the
line. Down by four points, Wales took the penalty, instead of going for
the jugular, and lost 25-24 to extend their now 59-year, 24-game
drought against the men in black.
In June this year there was ample evidence of the growing issue against their Southern Hemisphere rivals.
The Six Nations champions should have beaten the Wallabies twice on
their three-test tour. There is a sense their subsequent inconsolable
mindset remains a burden which contributed to shock losses to Argentina
and Samoa in the past two weeks.
"It was pretty hard to take at the time, particularly the second
loss," Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards said. "I know how much effort
the players put in. Then a similar thing happened with four minutes to
go in the third test."
After Gatland rejoined the Welsh this week, he spoke of how his
young men had to learn to cope with criticism and mental pressure. He's
had just six days to instil some form of self-belief.
"If you just try and compete and play with them [the All Blacks]
you're going to come off second best. You got to be prepared to do
things a little bit differently," Gatland said, hinting lessons had
been learned. "We're going to hopefully throw something a little
different at the All Blacks. We need to put them under some pressure.
You've got to take a few risks."
The All Blacks are well aware Wales' collective confidence is shot
after five successive defeats. Like Predators, they will prey on their
"If you can keep pressure on teams and really apply that from the
start and keep it on then there could be doubts in some teams and
whether they can stick with us," All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read explained.
"That's what we're trying to achieve. Sometimes it takes longer than
"It's hard to know in terms of how strong they are [mentally] but
it's something we pride ourselves on. We've got a great karma and
leadership group that keeps the team really grounded and focused on
what we need to achieve. That's been great for our side so far this
Meanwhile, All Black wings Hosea Gear and Julian Savea have been
nominated, along with South Africa's Bryan Habana and France's Julien
Malziew for IRB international try of the year.
Gear's bulldozing effort in the third test against Ireland this
year is an early favourite, but Savea's second against Scotland in
Edinburgh and Habana's individual chip and chase against the All Blacks
in Dunedin provide strong competition.