Jenkins opts for Parker

Wales head coach Gareth Jenkins has sprung a major surprise for Saturday's Test against New Zealand - by dropping both Gavin Henson and James Hook to the bench. [more]

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Wales head coach Gareth Jenkins has sprung a major surprise for Saturday’s Test against New Zealand – by dropping both Gavin Henson and James Hook to the bench.

With Stephen Jones fit to captain the side from fly-half, it was expected Jenkins’ big decision would have been between Henson and Hook for the inside centre position.

But the 12 jersey goes to their Ospreys club-mate Sonny Parker, who only came out of international retirement two weeks ago.

Parker started against the Pacific Islanders and was a late inclusion in the side that beat Canada last Friday night after Henson had pulled out with an infected toe.

He retains his place in midfield alongside Tom Shanklin, while Jones returns to action after missing the last two games with knee ligament damage suffered in the 29-29 draw with Australia. But Gareth Thomas misses out after failing to recover from a twisted knee.

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Kevin Morgan returns at full-back with Mark Jones and Shane Williams on the wings.

The other major decisions were in the front row, where Ospreys prop Duncan Jones won selection ahead of Gethin Jenkins at loose-head and Cardiff Blues hooker Rhys Thomas was preferred to Matthew Rees.

Gareth Jenkins’ previous autumn selections – for the Tests with Australia, Pacific Islanders and Canada – had been building up to this game.

He said last week: "When we select the side to play New Zealand it will be what I think is our best team. It will be a statement selection."

It is something of a surprise, therefore, that neither Hook nor Henson feature in the starting line-up.

But Jenkins explained this morning: "Sonny very much played himself into the selection debate with two solid performances since coming out of retirement, against Canada and the Pacific Islanders.

"He comes into an exciting back line with the kind of pace and power which can hopefully match New Zealand and enable us to take our game-plan to them."

Stephen Jones’ return to fitness could not have been better timed.

Jenkins said: "We can’t underestimate the boost he will give to the team.

"It is all the more fantastic that he returns to us fully fit, given the magnitude of the task ahead against the best team in world rugby at the moment.

"He is not only our captain and our leader on the pitch, but also a pivotal player at fly half. He brings with him a wealth of experience at international level.

"Obviously Gareth Thomas’ injury is disappointing, but we still feel we have selected from a strong squad and we have quality in every position right through the side."

Wales have not beaten the All Blacks for 53 years but Jenkins insists his men are up for re-writing some history.

They will certainly not go down without a fight.

"We go into this game with a huge amount of self-belief. We know we are playing the number one team in world rugby, but we also know they are human beings," he said.

"They play rugby better than any other side in the world and they are at a level we are striving to reach.

"We relish the chance to test ourselves against the might of the All Blacks and will come away from this challenge with a true sense of where we are on the world stage.

"We know we can beat any side if we reach our full potential and get things right. On Saturday we will find out just how near to getting it right we are."

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