As the football world gears up for the European Championships in France next week, the rugby world is looking south to the southern hemisphere as England, Ireland and Wales begin respective tours of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
Most intruiging of the tours will be Wales’ trip to New Zealand where they will face a new All Blacks side that is missing long time starters Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith.
Warren Gatland, Wales’ Kiwi head coach, will be eager to see his side travel to belly of the beast and come away with an All Blacks scalp. With so many fresh faces in the New Zealand 23, many feel that now is the best opportunity for a side to beat the double World Cup champions.
Following a lacklustre defeat to England in the recent warm up game, however, ex-All Black Christian Cullen has other ideas about the chances the visiting Welsh have against the home side.
Writing for the New Zealand Herald, the 58 international capped Cullen is not convinced by what he sees in the visitors.
“I think the All Blacks will put at least 15 or 20 points on Wales next weekend.
I watched Wales play England last weekend but didn’t see a lot in there that will trouble this All Blacks side.”
Though admitting that he is basing his judgement on a single performance, Cullen believes that even the likes of George North won’t worry the new look All Blacks, as he suggests that they are more than used to tackling the big boys of the Super Rugby series that includes New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
Alluding to the perceived opening test vulnerability of the All Blacks, Cullen rubbishes the notion that this year more than ever this vulnerability will play into the hands of the visiting Wales.
“There’s no doubt the All Blacks will miss players like Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Dan Carter but I actually think it’s the fact they aren’t there that they will perform right from the outset this year.
It is an All Blacks squad picked on form and the new guys will be so eager to impress and prove they belong they will go well.”
In fact, Cullen doesn’t expect Wales to pose too much a challenge to the All Blacks. Referring to them as ‘prey’ for the All Blacks, the former fullback and winger believes that coach Steve Hansen will have a few tricks up his sleeve to ensure that Wales 63 year losing streak on All Blacks soil will continue for at least another year.
Gatland for his part will be impressing upon his side the opportunity to reset the clock and rewrite the history books but even he must be all too aware that regardless of the 15 players Hansen sends out to greet the visiting Wales, regardless of their relative inexperience, each will be a formidable opponent.
The first test between New Zealand and Wales kicks off in Eden Park on June 11 at 7:35pm.
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