New Zealand lessons will benefit Wales - Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland believes Wales' tough tour to New Zealand will be the best thing that could happen to his team - even if they lose all of their matches.
Wales head into the second Test in Wellington on Saturday on the back of a 40-7, six-try thrashing by the Chiefs on Tuesday. They also lost the first Test in Auckland last weekend 39-21 after leading on the hour.
The All Blacks will go into the final two tests even bigger favourites than they were in the first, but Gatland insists exposing his players to the intensity of New Zealand rugby is the best way forward for them.
"Was it the best thing for the development of those players, many who are not regular starters for their regions or clubs, to play against the Chiefs on Tuesday? Is exposing them to this level and physicality the right thing to do?" asked Gatland.
"Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes. Was it a tough decision to take? Was it the best thing for them, for Welsh rugby and for the future? Yes, absolutely.
"Was that defeat against the Chiefs hard to take? Yes. You've got to take a huge backlash, but it's worth it for their development - you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.
"We've got to make the younger players aware of what it's like at this top level and the only way to do that is by putting them in the middle. The great thing is the senior players have been excellent."
Wales led the world champions 18-15 at half-time at Eden Park last weekend and were still ahead, 21-18, on the hour before the All Blacks hit them with 21 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes to pull away.
The biggest challenge for Gatland's men in Wellington will be to stem the All Black tide that everyone is predicting will engulf them much earlier than last week, having blown away the cobwebs after seven months without an international.
"We've spoken about momentum, about taking the game to New Zealand and wanting to put them under pressure. We probably stopped playing after about 60 minutes in the opening Test," admitted Gatland.
"We had a couple of opportunities but didn't take them and there was a 14-point turnaround at the end of the game when they scored. We have looked at things we can improve.
"We're aware we have to keep playing for 80 minutes and take risks for those 80 minutes - you have got to be positive against the best teams. We scrummaged pretty well, the line-out was okay apart from a couple of instances, but we have to tighten and number up on defence.
"We're also looking to be better in negating New Zealand's kicking strategy, because we didn't clear well on a couple of occasions last week."
The choice of Rhys Patchell at full-back should help in that regard. The 23-year-old has a big boot and has been thrown into the deep end less than a week after arriving in New Zealand as a replacement.
He takes over from Liam Williams, who moves to the wing to cover for the injured George North, while Luke Charteris comes into the second row as Bradley Davies drops to the bench.
"I've been asked to do a job at the weekend and hopefully I will be able to do it. It is a really exciting thing to look forward to," said Patchell, who is joining the Scarlets this summer to play more regularly at outside half.
"Last weekend was a really good game to listen to, and I'm sure it looked good on the box, and for 60 minutes the boys really went at it. It is important we build on those 60 minutes at the weekend."