Gareth Anscombe will make his first Wales appearance for more than two years in Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series opener against New Zealand. The Ospreys fly-half, who was born in New Zealand and qualifies for Wales via his mother, suffered a major knee injury during Wales’ World Cup warm-up game against England in August 2019.
But he has won Wayne Pivac’s vote for the No 10 shirt with the 21-year-old Dragons flanker Taine Basham handed a first international start, while Scarlets backs Johnny McNicholl and Johnny Williams also feature. Anscombe, who has won 27 caps, returned to action last month and has started three Ospreys matches in the United Rugby Championship.
Pivac was dealt another injury blow shortly after announcing his team, with Ken Owens ruled out with a back problem. The hooker’s absence means Ryan Elias will start in the front row. Elliot Dee is also unavailable due to a neck injury, so the Cardiff hooker Kirby Myhill moves up to the bench after joining the squad this week.
A number of other key personnel had already been ruled out by injuries, with George North, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric sidelined. Centre Willis Halaholo is isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 and Liam Williams is recovering from appendix surgery.
With the Principality Stadium clash falling outside World Rugby’s autumn international window, Wales are also without the England-based players Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau and Louis Rees-Zammit because they are not released by their clubs.
Alun Wyn Jones, who has also played in 12 Tests for the British and Irish Lions, wins his 149th Wales cap to overtake New Zealand’s Richie McCaw’s total for one country. On the bench,Cardiff’s former Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland is called up after a Wales absence of four years.
Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953, losing 31 successive games, with 16 of those defeats being in Cardiff. And they have another herculean task on their hands before continuing the Autumn Nations Series next month against South Africa, Fiji and Australia.
Pivac said: “The focus for this group has been two weeks of training. They have worked really, really hard and it has galvanised them. We’ve been low on numbers this week, so it hasn’t been the normal preparation in terms of exact numbers to train against each other, so that has been a challenge.
“The guys are really excited, but they know it’s a big task at hand. The reality is we are two years away from a Rugby World Cup, and we are building towards that. We’ve got a Six Nations around the corner to defend and try to win that tournament again.
“Every young Welsh player when they are growing up wants to play at the Principality in front of 75,000, and if you ask them who they want to play against, New Zealand would be one of the top couple of sides they would choose.
“To win a World Cup, you have to play against teams like New Zealand at some stage in the tournament and you have to win those games. It’s going to be a great experience for those guys who haven’t played a lot of Test rugby and they will certainly know they have been in a match afterwards.”