All Blacks: Wales have to believe they can win

By Gregor Paul in Cardiff

Test rugby can be an illusionary business, especially this week when it appears as if the contest between Wales and New Zealand will hinge on the physical when, really, it will be determined by the mental.

Wales, World Cup semifinalists in 2011 and Grand Slam winners earlier this year, have not become a poor side in the last six months. Injuries, bad luck and three close defeats against Australia in June conspired to rip a major hole in the side of their hull.

Argentina and Samoa have further dented the confidence and three days out from the clash with the All Blacks, the big question for Wales is, do they actually believe they can win?

Psychological frailty has been a perennial weakness of the Welsh for several years now. Talent-wise they are up there - as good as the southern hemisphere sides in terms of their ball handling, set-piece and work at the collisions.

But they are not closers. For all their endeavour, they have let many a big game slip past them. The World Cup semifinal is a classic case in point.

Even reduced to 14 men as they were when captain Sam Warburton was sent off after 22 minutes, they could and should have beaten France. In June, they had Australia scrambling, all three games in their pocket yet, each time, they stared at victory and didn't believe they could get there.

Without belief against the All Blacks, the Welsh don't stand a chance.

"We have chatted about the disappointments of the last two weeks and getting things back on track this week,'' said coach Warren Gatland, who returns to the helm after being on British Lions duty.

"It is not a physical issue. It is just getting the head right and facing a daunting challenge but being excited by it.''

The challenge is indeed daunting as not only do the All Blacks present as the most serious physical challenge in world rugby, but they are also arguably the mentally toughest.

What Wales are striving for comes so easily to the All Blacks these days - the belief and confidence are ever present in this All Black side as they have spent inordinate amounts of time building that side of their game.

"Coming over to this side of the world, you don't do that too often so you want to play well and really impress people over here,'' said Kieran Read about how the All Blacks manage to stay so strong mentally this deep into their season.

"And as a team, every time the All Blacks step out, it is expected that we will have prepared well and have prepared to a really high level.

"In terms of motivation, it is pretty easy to get up when you are wearing that black jersey.''

The All Blacks' record speaks for itself. They haven't lost a November test since 2002 and such dominance helps breed an unshakeable confidence and focus they hold.

Wales have just three days to somehow convince themselves they can win this test - not just go close, but actually win it. The All Blacks - they already know they can win and that conviction won't budge an inch between now and kickoff.

- Herald on Sunday

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