Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Gatland picks number one backline

The All Blacks will face a Welsh side who have reclaimed their Grand Slam winning backline and coach Warren Gatland for their duel on Sunday.

A return to fitness for centre Jonathan Davies after a groin injury and the choice of Rhys Priestland at five eighths sorts out the championship backline.

Usual captain Sam Warburton returns after missing a start in last week's shock loss to Samoa while lock Luke Charteris and hooker Matthew Rees have been picked instead of injured colleagues.

There is also a boost with Gatland returning to lead the coaching group after being on British and Irish Lions selection duty during the last two dismal defeats to Argentina and the Samoa.

"We've had a few injuries but it is probably our number one backline," Gatland said.

"Players are probably a little down on confidence but they have trained well today."

"It's nice to be back and I went in yesterday and sat round the coaches table and made a joke and put my hands up and said, "the Messiah is back.

"A couple of the coaches said 'piss off' and that was exactly the response I wanted. My presence in the last couple of weeks wouldn't have made much of a difference."

Wales had chatted about the disappointments of the last fortnight and believed there was nothing physical amiss, they just had to get their heads right for this latest attempt at beating the 59 year long losing hoodoo against the All Blacks.

"It is about facing a daunting challenge and being excited about it."

Gatland still has his right foot in a cast after another operation and skin graft six weeks ago to repair the damage he sustained when he fell off a ladder at his Waihi bach earlier this year.

He saw his role with Wales to develop more players and build the team towards the 2015 World Cup.

The last two weeks was a tough period which Wales needed to draw on and use if they were going to progress as a consistent international side and emulate the Six Nations results of earlier this year.

The whole squad was disappointed. They set high standards in the last 12 months and those expectations had to be met.

"There is a little bit of a confidence issue with one or two players and some of them are dealing for the first time with criticism that is coming from the outside," Gatland said.

"It is quite personal for one or two of them and they have to learn to cope with that.

"They are young men and a lot of them experienced a lot of success and now they have had a dip and need to be able to face some criticisms of how they deal with that.

"I think all of us will be stronger long-term, for those experiences."

Earlier the All Blacks held their first serious training with some questions about Daniel Carter's fitness.

He left the session with one of the medical staff for a little while before returning to watch the latter stages of the practice.

About that time NZRU president Bryan Williams was chatting about Carter's influence on the side and how he must be rated at or near the top of those players who have worn the famous black jersey.

He always seems to play at the peak of his powers, finding a less than strong performance in his repertoire was difficult.

As Williams was speaking, Carter started walking back around the training field today in Cardiff.

What was up, if anything? No one was saying, not a murmur.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips, Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (c), Ryan Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Aaron Jarvis, Matthew Rees, Paul James. Reserves: Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins, Scott Andrews, Aaron Shingler, Justin Tipuric, Tavis Knoyle, James Hook, Scott Williams.

- NZ Herald

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