New Zealand will head into their second Test in Wellington against Wales with heaps of confidence after winning the series opener last weekend.
Steve Hansen's troops, appeared rusty at Eden Park last Saturday, and were trailing 18-15 at the break. Despite the visitors matching New Zealand in nearly all the facets of play, the world champions showed their class in the second 40 to claim a 36-21 victory in the end.
In particluar, it was thanks to the grit and tenacious effort that the All Black pack put in at every set-piece that allowed their skillful backs to run at full pace against a shaky Welsh defence. The home side will face Warren Gatland's men for the second time, but on Tuesday a mid-week Wales team suffered a humiliating 40-7 defeat against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
As that scoreline suggests, Gatland's charges were put to shame by the two-time Super Rugby champions and the New Zealand-born coach said the loss has given him insight into his fringe players' ability to make the step up to Test level.
Not only was the heavy defeat an eye opener for the coach but it also exposed many other flaws that could see the All Blacks set a few more records and a bigger winning margin than Dave Rennie's men did, earlier in the week.
Wales were thoroughly outclassed by a Super Rugby side who are without some of their key players such as Damian McKenzie and Sam Cane, who are both in the All Blacks set-up, as well as Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams who has been on duty for New Zealand's national Sevens team all season. The Hamilton-based side dominated Tuesday's clash, outscoring Wales – whose side had eight players who were part of the matchday 23 in the first Test at Eden Park – six tries to one.
The home side's domination in the second half of last week's Test is something that Wales will have to counteract as the All Blacks gained nearly twice as much (749) metres as their opponents (422) and this is evident of the level of confidence that the current world champions had in the second 40.
Wales will, however, have to step up on defence if they were to effect any form of dramatic turnaround after suffering two losses, conceding eleven tries in just four days.
The visitors might just be physically drained given that 25 percent (8 players) of Gatland's 32-man squad were all part of the first Test as well as the match against the Chiefs on Tuesday. Scott Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Scott Baldwin, Rob Evans, Tomas Francis and Taulupe Faletau are the players who were part of the matchday squads in both Wales' matches thus far.
The visitors will also have to restrict and starve the All Blacks from quality possession and territory while minimising the error count they were seen making, on defence, in the opener of the three-match Test series. The visitors missed an alarming 31 hits, only managing to make 74 percent (87) of their 118 tackles.
Even with the loss to the Chiefs, the visitors will know exactly where they have to improve and work on as they head into the Wellington Test, but knowing how relentless and consistent the All Blacks are, the one thing Wales will have to focus on is to play for the full 80 minutes.
Should the wave of expected All Black attacking phases be too much for Gatland's men, they could be huddling behind their own whitewash more often than last week's five tries. Not only does their tackling need a bit of upgrading, but they will need to improve their discipline and not play to New Zealand's strengths by kicking the ball downfield and in doing so handing the ball to the likes of the 50-Test cap duo – Isreal Dagg (full-back) and Ben Smith (right wing) – and the powerful left wing Waisake Naholo, who are all known to make opposition pay with their elusive counter-attacks from deep inside their own 22.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: Ben Smith is playing in his 50th Test and has been in top form in the Super Rugby for the Highlanders and last week was no different. He will however be looking to make a huge impact from the right wing with his darting and evasive running lines. Smith gained a valuable 113 metres beating four defenders and effecting two clean breaks from his nine runs in the Auckland Test. A player that Wales will certainly mark closely, irrespective of which number is on the back of his jersey.
For Wales: Full-back Liam Williams' caught the eye with a stunning break last weekend which left the home side's newly formed midfield combination of Malakai Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty floundering. This brilliant run not only set the brenchmark for the intenstity of the match but also exposed the new All Black centre pairing's flaws in defence. The 25-year-old Scarlets back will have to be watched closely as any half gap spotted will be exploited and used to the advantage of the visitors.
Head to head: The battle from the base of the scrum between All Blacks captain Kieran Read and Taulupe Faletau should be an exciting one. Read, who took over the captaincy from All Black legend Richie McCaw, has shown his mettle at international Test level gaining valuable metres on attack and beating defenders with ease. Meanwhile, his opposite number Faletau, who featured in the mid-week squad as well, will be hoping to bounce back after a below-par performance against the Chiefs. The Bath-bound loose forward's relentless work off the ball ensures good quality possession for the visitors while he made some powerful runs and crossed for a deserved try in the opening Test.
Prediction: The loss to the Chiefs should have given Wales a wake up call, however it will not be enough to outsmart the world champions. New Zealand to beat Wales by more than 25 points.
2016: New Zealand won 39-21 in Auckland
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
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 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 Rhys Patchell, 14 Liam Williams, 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 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams
Date: Saturday, June 18
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Wayne Barnes (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)