'A real tough challenge' awaits All Blacks
SPOTLIGHT: The All Blacks expect “a real tough challenge” from Wales in Cardiff this weekend, even though the hosts will be missing several star players, assistant coach John Plumtree said.
Plumtree downplayed the absence of big names such as Dan Biggar, Louis Rees-Zammit and Taulupe Faletau, who will remain with their English clubs because Saturday’s match falls outside rugby’s Test window.
“When three or four players aren’t available, there’s always another three or four that come in and want to give their very best and prove their worth in the jersey,” he told reporters.
In addition to the club-enforced absence of seven England-based players, Wales’ injury list includes George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi.
The All Blacks have not lost to Wales since 1953 and go into the match as heavy favourites, although Plumtree said there was no room for complacency.
“I know a little bit about the psyche of Welsh rugby,” said the New Zealander, who began his coaching career at Swansea in the 1990s.
“They’ll be really up for this game, they’ll be really excited about it, every individual will play above the game they normally play.”
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Plumtree said Welsh coach Wayne Pivac would have noted the Springboks’ recent success against the All Blacks, when the world champions used relentless physicality to secure a win and a narrow loss.
“We understand we’ll probably get a bit of that on the weekend as well,” he said.
With rain forecast, Plumtree said the match could turn into a “slugfest” as Wales looked to gain territory.
“Tactically, we’ll have to be very smart and take our opportunities when we do get territory because we know they’ll be working hard defensively and looking to build pressure with that ball,” he said.
“Wales are also a side that you’ve got to be very patient with, you’ve got to punch away and work very hard for a victory.”
He said New Zealand’s only injury doubt was prop Angus Ta’avao, who dislocated his elbow in training.