CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Warren Gatland, the former New Zealand hooker who coaches Wales, doesn't believe the All Blacks are ever vulnerable.
The flatterer also said this week they could put out a fourth, fifth, sixth-best side and still beat most other teams.
Gatland was purring because he didn't want to rile up New Zealand before their rugby test in Cardiff on Saturday.
Wales has lost 29 successive tests to New Zealand, including 10 on Gatland's watch.
But if he had said they were vulnerable, nobody could argue with him.
Since beating South Africa 57-0 in mid-September, when some observers believed the All Blacks were occupying another universe, the team has come back to earth.
- In the return match in Cape Town, New Zealand trailed by two with 10 to go, but prevailed 25-24 with a late clinching Lima Sopoaga penalty.
- Australia in Brisbane ended a two-year losing drought to the All Blacks.
- France rallied from 31-5 down at halftime to 31-18 and lost the momentum after a try was disallowed.
- And lastly, Scotland outplayed the All Blacks for long periods last weekend but failed when it mattered most.
The All Blacks have been vulnerable, and lost two tests this year for the first time since 2011. But even in the face of yellow cards, penalties, and a welter of handling errors, the All Blacks have still proved tough to take out. Newcomers have had an immediate effect, even when teamwork has taken time to gel. That's been the positive for coach Steve Hansen.
"I thought 2016 would be a tough year (after the post-Rugby World Cup retirements) but we got through it pretty well and unscathed from an adversity point of view, apart from Chicago," Hansen said.
"But this year we've had to work hard and it's been good for us. It's put us in places mentally where we've got to go inside ourselves and find the strength and the courage to get the job done, and by and large we've done that. It's been a good year for the team because we've had to grow."
Wales forwards Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, and Taulupe Faletau and scrumhalf Rhys Webb joined an exclusive club of Welshmen to have beaten New Zealand when they were part of the British and Irish Lions who won the second test in June in Wellington.
What Owens took away from that tour was not just belief but also keys to victory: The need to put New Zealand under sustained pressure, stay intense, win the collisions, bring line speed in defense, and keep it going for all 80 minutes.
"They never feel they can be beaten," Owens mused.
"Even when they are under a bit of pressure, they do find ways out and ways of winning the game when they are perhaps not at their best. If you look at the Scotland game they were under pressure - Scotland played really well - but they found their moments of magic."
In another tough autumn schedule, Wales has already lost to Australia 29-21, and tackles South Africa next week. Gatland favors playing the best sides to draw the best out of his team, even though his record against the southern hemisphere powers is pitiful: Two wins in 30 matches.
Which makes him scoff at any notion these All Blacks are vulnerable.
"They are undefeated on this tour. They know how to win, they know how to grind out performances, and they know how to come back," Gatland said.
"We are excited about the opportunity to play the best team in the world. If you can't get up for that, then you shouldn't be on the pitch.
"As a group, we haven't spoken about the summer (Lions tour) and what happened in New Zealand. It is about Wales and us concentrating on ourselves."