Gareth Anscombe handed fly-half start as Wales take on New Zealand

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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 head coach Wayne Pivac’s vote for the number 10 shirt in a line-up that sees 21-year-old Dragons flanker Taine Basham handed a first international start, while Scarlets backs Johnny McNicholl and Johnny Williams also feature.

England v Wales – International Friendly – Twickenham Stadium
Gareth Anscombe receives treatment after being hurt in Wales’ 2019 clash against England (Adam Davy/PA)

With the Principality Stadium clash falling outside World Rugby’s autumn international window, Wales are minus England-based players like Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau and Louis Rees-Zammit because they are not released by their clubs.

A number of key personnel are absent through injuries, with British and Irish Lions stars such as George North, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric all currently sidelined, while centre Willis Halaholo is isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 and Liam Williams is recovering from appendix surgery.

Basham packs down in an all-Dragons back-row alongside Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright, Adam Beard partners captain Alun Wyn Jones at lock and Tomos Williams is Anscombe’s half-back partner.

Jones, who has also played in 12 Tests for the British and Irish Lions, wins his 149th Wales cap to overtake former New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw’s total for one country.

Bath v Exeter Chiefs – Gallagher Premiership – Recreation Ground
Cardiff’s former Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland is back in Wales’ match-day 23 (Steve Paston/PA)

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.

“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.

Elliot Dee file photo
Wales and Dragons hooker Elliot Dee (David Davies/PA)

“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.”

The Welsh Rugby Union, meanwhile, said that Dragons hooker Elliot Dee has been released from the Wales squad due to a neck injury he sustained against the Stormers a fortnight ago.

Cardiff hooker Kirby Myhill has linked up with the squad at their training camp and is on the bench to face the All Blacks.

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