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Wales coach Warren Gatland relishing All Blacks challenge

Published 20/03/2016

Wales head coach Warren Gatland is relishing the challenge of a three-Test New Zealand tour in June
Wales head coach Warren Gatland is relishing the challenge of a three-Test New Zealand tour in June

Wales face mission improbable against the world champion All Blacks in New Zealand this summer - but head coach Warren Gatland is relishing rugby union's greatest challenge.

The statistics make for grim reading from a Welsh perspective, having suffered 26 successive defeats at New Zealand's hands since beating them in Cardiff 63 years ago, while their record on All Blacks soil shows seven losses from seven starts.

A three-Test tour awaits Wales in June, and it will be against a reasonably new-look All Blacks side following captain Richie McCaw's retirement and departure to overseas clubs of his fellow superstars like Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

Wales will head to the southern hemisphere following a runners-up finish in this season's RBS 6 Nations that they secured by claiming their record tournament win of 67-14 against hapless Principality Stadium visitors Italy.

And New Zealander Gatland is upbeat about the task ahead after a Six Nations campaign that ultimately fell short on the back of one dire 40-minute display against champions England at Twickenham.

"I don't think you would ever underestimate New Zealand with the quality of players they've got. With any team, you have got to go and believe in your own ability," he said.

"We are wasting our time getting on the plane if we don't think we can go down there and push New Zealand hard. We have got to believe in ourselves.

"We have got to go down there believing that on our day and if things go right, that we are good enough to win.

"With New Zealand being world champions, there is a lot of pressure on those new players coming into the squad, and for both teams there is 12 months later (British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand) to look forward to as well, so there is a huge amount to play for."

Wales received mixed reviews in some quarters for their performances during the Six Nations, yet they still ended it by scoring more tries and more points than anyone else, while only England had a better defensive record.

"We had spoken about trying to change up our game at the start of this competition," Gatland said.

"It doesn't happen overnight, it takes a little bit of time when you are trying to change things. We've mixed things up with some of the forwards in wider channels.

"We haven't quite clicked as this campaign has gone, but there are times when we really have clicked, like the last part of the second half against England and against Italy, and parts of other games where we have started to show something there and it looks like that's a game we can develop.

"We have been criticised for playing the same-way rugby and playing the touchlines.

"If you are observant, we haven't been playing that way as much. We have played other players in wider channels and we have played some different patterns, and yet we still get criticised as being 'same-old, same-old'.

"It's not a club side where you have got three months together in pre-season and then warm-up games, and you can spend 10 or 12 games of the season working on it.

"It is an international team, and the expectations are that we have a week or two together and it should be perfect. It's just taking us a little bit of time."

Wales' next game is a return to Twickenham on May 29 to face England in both countries' final tour preparation fixture, with England visiting Australia when Gatland's men are tackling the All Blacks.

Asked how he would approach the England encounter, Gatland said: "My initial reaction would be that depending on whether there are any teams involved in finals that weekend, we would probably put out a pretty strong side.

"England will no doubt be missing a few with the Premiership final the day before.

"It's going to depend on when our guys finish in the season as well, whether it's the first week of May or a little bit later than that, and how much of a break we give them before we call them in."

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