Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Wales and Chiefs start new tradition - the pre-match aftermatch

The Wales fans support their team during the test match between New Zealand All Blacks and the Wales at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.
The Wales fans support their team during the test match between New Zealand All Blacks and the Wales at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.

The Wales squad have to fly out of Hamilton straight after tomorrow night's match against the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium so they have broken with tradition and, perhaps created a new one for touring teams here - they held their post-match dinner last night, 48 hours before the match.

The two squads mingled over dinner at company director Mitch Plaw's palatial property on the banks of Lake Karapiro, a social return to the old traditions of the game, which, sadly in this professional age is virtually no more.

Sunday's get-together was organised because Wales have to catch a charter flight to Wellington for Saturday's second test straight after the match as there are no hotel rooms available in the Waikato, the annual Fieldays at Mystery Creek meaning accommodation is once again at a premium.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has strong links to the region as a former Waikato player and coach and the evening was a continuation of that relationship.

"It was nice for the players to mix and mingle before they bash the crap out of each tomorrow night ... ," Gatland said.

His wife, Trudi, who lives in Hamilton while Gatland bases himself full-time in Cardiff, has also bolstered the Chiefs' bank balance by buying a significant number of tickets for the match, which kicks off at 6.35pm.

"I think my wife sorted about 120 tickets," Gatland said. "I think she spent about $7000 - there are a lot of people coming to support both teams."

Gatland's return to Hamilton comes after the hospitality accorded to his team at the 2011 World Cup when they played pool matches against Samoa and Fiji at Waikato Stadium.

He said this visit was a chance to repay that, a sentiment shared by captain Luke Charteris, who said: "We were lucky enough to be here for so long during the World Cup in 2011. You ask any member of the squad, it was one of the best rugby experiences we've had and not only because we were reasonably settled on the pitch, but because off the field we were so well looked after and had such a great time.

"Obviously Gatts is a bit of a local legend here and there's probably added motivation for him."

George North's torn hamstring has ruled Wales' most dangerous player from the first test at Eden Park out of the tour, but, while it is a blow to his team's hopes, Gatland insisted that merely gave tomorrow night's wings Eli Walker and Tom James an opportunity to play for a place at the Cake Tin.

"There's an opportunity for them, absolutely, an opportunity for both of them, and a good chance for that midfield too," he said. "For the players ... there's a lot on the line in terms of personal performance and team performance before we name the side for Saturday."

While Wales were eventually overrun by the All Blacks in the 39-21 victory, Gatland is positive about his side's chances for the second and third tests in Wellington and Dunedin, respectively.

"I thought we played some good rugby for 60 minutes but you have to play for 80," he said. "That's the challenge for us, they just keep coming at you, they're relentless, and that's what the players have to learn on the field. We've looked at ourselves and perhaps there were a couple of opportunities just before halftime where potentially we should have scored ... you take a couple of those opportunities and get in front and keep putting them under pressure and then perhaps you get across the line."

The Chiefs, who will perform a pre-match haka for the first time in their history, will not be easybeats, despite the absence of their front-line players. Charteris said: "They've got some very dangerous players, some very good strike runners in the backs. And their pack is one of the best in the competition. They're very well organised, and obviously very well coached, particularly at lineout time and scrum time. They're going to pose some problems for us."

Wales
15. Matthew Morgan
14. Eli Walker
13. Tyler Morgan
12 Scott Williams
11 Tom James
10 Rhys Priestland
9 Gareth Davies
8 James King
7 Ellis Jenkins
6 Josh Turnbull
5 Luke Charteris
4 Jake Ball
3 Tomas Francis
2 Scott Baldwin
1 Rob Evans
Reserves: Kristian Dacey, Aaron Jarvis, Rhodri Jones, Bradley Davies, Ross Moriarty, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Rhys Patchell.

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