Hot favorite All Blacks not taking Welsh lightly in 2nd test
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The world champion All Blacks are refusing to be lulled by the almost universal expectation they will win the second rugby test on Saturday to extend their 63-year winning streak over Wales and clinch the three-test series with a match to spare.
The Welsh team faces an immense challenge after its morale-sapping 39-21 loss to New Zealand in last weekend's first test and the 40-7 defeat of its second-string lineup by Super Rugby's Chiefs during the weekend.
But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes those setbacks will serve only to inspire Wales in Saturday's match. Wales led New Zealand after an hour last weekend before being overrun by three tries in the last 18 minutes.
"They're hurting right now and that makes them dangerous," Hansen said.
Wales' performance in Auckland didn't catch the All Blacks by surprise. They had promised to be bold in their approach to the game and they were, scoring two brilliant first-half tries after trailing 15-5 to take an unexpected lead to halftime.
They held the lead until the All Blacks' superior depth off the bench finally told.
"I thought we played some good rugby for 60 minutes but you have to play for 80," Wales' New Zealand-born coach Warren Gatland said. New Zealand "just keep coming at you, they're relentless.
"We've looked at ourselves and perhaps there were a couple of opportunities just before halftime where potentially we should have scored. You take a couple of those opportunities."
Tuesday's loss to a heavily-depleted Chiefs lineup was an even harsher lesson for Wales' fringe players who'd hoped to challenge incumbent test players for their places.
The Welsh team for the match was heavy with experience, including test captain Sam Warburton, and dominated possession through its strong set pieces. But the Chiefs, who were without their eight current All Blacks and as many as 10 other players who were injured or unavailable, crushed them by six tries to two.
The match further emphasized to Wales the vast depth in New Zealand rugby and the fact that the high-paced, high-skill style of rugby is endemic to this nation, learned in childhood.
It played a part in Gatland's decision to make only two changes to his starting lineup for the second test. One of those was forced by an injury to star winger George North, who will miss the rest of the tour — Rhys Patchell has been handed an unexpected start at fullback, and Liam Williams shifted from that position to North's wing.
Lock Luke Charteris, who led Wales against the Chiefs, was chosen ahead of Bradley Davies, who drops to the reserves.
The All Blacks also made two personnel changes, dropping out-of-form winger Julian Savea, moving fullback Ben Smith to the wing and recalling Israel Dagg to start at fullback for his 50th test. Sam Whitelock also returns in place of Luke Romano at lock.
Hansen said he expected Wales to stick with the adventurous approach they used in Auckland.
"They've worked out that to play us they can't just go from penalties to scrum penalties, kick to the corners and go for lineouts," he said. "They're going to have to try and play a brand of rugby which they're actually quite good at playing.
"They've got good ball skills, hand-eye co-ordination's good and even on Saturday night when they did do it they looked good. So they'll be encouraged by that and will want to come out and have a real crack at us."