Wayne Pivac has named his Wales team to take on the might of New Zealand on Saturday with Alun Wyn Jones set to become the most capped rugby player of all time.
Jones, 36, will captain his country in front of what will be the Principality Stadium's first capacity crowd since February 2019, earning his 149th cap for his country in the process.
That will take the legendary lock one cap clear of All Blacks great Richie McCaw, the two-time Rugby World Cup -winner who retired in 2015 after captaining New Zealand in 110 of his 148 appearances.
Six Nations title-holders Wales have at least 15 senior players unavailable either due to injury or because the fixture falls just outside World Rugby's international Test window, ruling out any Premiership -based stars.
Scarlets hooker Ken Owens was named in the starting XV but withdrew shortly after the team announcement due to a back injury. Ryan Elias will start in his place, with uncapped Cardiff hooker Kirby Myhill set to suit up on the bench after being called in to replace injured Dragon Elliot Dee.
Centre Johnny Williams will partner Scarlets team-mate Jonathan Davies in midfield after Cardiff's Willis Halaholo contracted Covid-19 earlier this week.
Another Llanelli-based talent, Johnny McNicholl, will start at full-back as Liam Williams recovers from surgery to remove his appendix, while Owen Lane will deputise for the ineligible Louis Rees-Zammit on the wing.
New Zealand native Gareth Anscombe has received the nod at fly-half ahead of Rhys Priestland, who settles for a place on the bench ahead of what would be his first Wales outing in four years.
Auckland-born Anscombe will be making his first Wales appearance since 2019 when he suffered a serious knee injury against England, hoping to impress against some familiar faces after dazzling for Ospreys this term.
Tomos Williams has also edged Gareth Davies for the starting job at scrum-half, while Cardiff team-mate Ben Thomas will provide back-line cover from the bench.
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Jones will be joined in the second row by Ospreys team-mate Adam Beard, and No. 8 Aaron Wainwright joins flankers Ross Moriarty and Taine Basham to form an all-Dragons back row.
“The focus for this group has been two weeks of training, they’ve worked really, really hard and it has galvanised them," Pivac said after announcing his team on Thursday. "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’s been a challenge.
“The guys are really excited but they know it’s a big task at hand. The reality is we’re two years away from a Rugby World Cup and we’re building towards that. We’ve got a Six Nations around the corner to defend, and try to win that tournament again.
“They know it’s a massive challenge ahead. Every young Welsh player when they’re growing up want 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’d choose."
Wales have lost each of their last 31 meetings with the All Blacks, a dry spell that stretches back to 1953 when the Cardiff hosts edged their guests 13-8.
Pivac pulled off a major surprise by guiding his team to a Six Nations title on only his second attempt earlier this year, but beating New Zealand with so many stars out of contention could prove an even taller order.
The Kiwi coach highlighted the opportunities for young prospects like Basham, 21, and Thomas, 22, in particular to make an impression before the regular starters return to contention.
“With injuries and unavailability it’s another great opportunity for players like Taine Basham and Ben Thomas to come into the group and gain valuable experience," he added.
"They’re going to come away from this Test match knowing what it’s like to play one of the best teams in the world."
Former Wales under-20 star Basham scored twice on his senior debut en route to a 68-12 win over Canada in July, going on to make another two substitute appearances against Argentina.
Jones is at the opposite end of his career and hoping to lead Wales to what could be one of the biggest results of his career, having captained the British and Irish Lions to a 2-1 series defeat against South Africa earlier this year.
The All Blacks reclaimed the Rugby Championship crown in early October after winning all but one of their six fixtures, succumbing 31-29 to South Africa in their final game of the tournament.
New Zealand have since bounced back with a 104-14 victory against the United States last Saturday, with coach Ian Foster set to welcome a raft of his first-string stars in Cardiff.
Wales team to face New Zealand
Johnny McNicholl; Owen Lane, Jonathan Davies, Johnny Williams, Josh Adams; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright
Reps: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Will Rowlands, Seb Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Ben Thomas
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