Preview: New Zealand v Wales

Date published: June 9 2016

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Wales have the unenviable task of taking on New Zealand, in their first Test since their Rugby World Cup triumph, in Auckland on Saturday.

The All Blacks swept all before them at the global showpiece last year, and although there have been several changes in their playing staff since that triumph in England, the world champions will be keen to prove that they can still deliver dominant performances.

New Zealand are without the services of legendary players like Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, who all retired from Test rugby after last year's World Cup victory. But head coach Steve Hansen has made contingency plans with all the abovementioned players' replacements already experienced internationals.

McCaw's replacement Sam Cane has big boots to fill as he is taking over from a genuine icon of the game, while new captain Kieran Read and fellow loose forward Jerome Kaino will be keen to hit the ground running as they haven't played well on a consistent basis for the Crusaders and Blues respectively this year.

Despite losing the aforementioned veterans, Hansen has, where possible, stuck with the players who helped his country win that World Cup and nine of the players starting in this Test were also in the run-on side in their win over Australia in the World Cup Final.

The loss of Nonu and Smith in midfield, who amassed 197 caps between them, will be keenly felt and it will be interesting to see how their replacements, Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa, perform against Wales' experienced midfield combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

The visitors are overwhelming underdogs and will have to do what they have never done before – beat the All Blacks in New Zealand.

Such an achievement will be a hugely significant feat, as apart from the fact that they haven't been on the winning side against their hosts in their own backyard, Wales have not beaten the All Blacks in 26 matches since 1953.

Victory over the world champions would not just be a special and memorable achievement for the country but also for their New Zealand-born head coach Warren Gatland, who wouldn't have dreamed of ever coaching against the country of his birth during his time as a provincial player for Waikato and as a dirt-tracker for the All Blacks.

Gatland's name has been mentioned to coach the All Blacks in the future and, although Hansen's successor will not be appointed any time soon, the Wales boss can improve his chances of getting that job one day by winning a Test in New Zealand.

Wales head into this clash on the back of a Six Nations campaign where they finished second but they didn't cover themselves in glory when they suffered a 27-13 loss against a second-string England side at Twickenham at the end of last month.

That defeat proved costly as they lost their uncompromising and tough-tackling flanker Dan Lydiate to injury, but his absence has been offset by the return of inspirational captain Sam Warburton, who has recovered from a shoulder issue.

Players to Watch

For New Zealand: After missing last year's Rugby World Cup due to a knee injury, all eyes will be on Aaron Cruden as he returns to the world champions' run-on side in the crucial pivot position. Cruden has done well as a playmaker for the Chiefs in Super Rugby this year and he will be expected to unlock Wales' defence with his impressive skill-set. He takes over from arguably the game's best ever fly-half in Carter, but the Chiefs stalwart has done that before and will be keen to make the number 10 jersey his own with a commanding performance.

For Wales: Veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones is making his 100th Test appearance and although a victory for Wales is highly unlikely he will be determined to make the occasion a memorable one with a commanding performance. Jones is one of the game's best lineout exponents who seldom plays poorly for his country and tends to lift his game the bigger the occasion. With this being a momentous match for him, he should be be at the forefront of Wales' forward effort.

Head-to-head: Much has been made of the front row battle with the All Blacks saying earlier in the week that they expect Wales to come with a big onslaught in this facet of play. In loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins and hooker Ken Owens, Wales have an experienced duo while tighthead Samson Lee, although young by front row standards, is one of the rising stars in his position.

They go head-to-head against Joe Moody, Dane Coles and Owen Franks, who also started for the All Blacks when they beat the Wallabies in last year's World Cup Final. Moody and Franks are solid scrummagers while Coles does his core duties well and is an explosive runner who plays like an extra loose forward.

Prediction: New Zealand should have little trouble in seeing off their visitors. Although it won't be a one-sided affair, the All Blacks will win by 15 points!

Previous results:

2014: New Zealand won 34-16 in Cardiff
2012: New Zealand won 33-10 in Cardiff
2010: New Zealand won 37-25 in Cardiff
2010: New Zealand won 29-10 in Hamilton
2010: New Zealand won 42-9 in Dunedin
2009: New Zealand won 19-12 in Cardiff
2008: New Zealand won 29-9 in Cardiff
2006: New Zealand won 45-10 in Cardiff

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Seta Tamanivalu

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Scott Williams

Date: Saturday, June 11
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Will Houston (Australia)

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