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Wales excited about prospect of series against All Blacks - Warren Gatland

Published 10/05/2016

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has named his squad to face England on May 29 and for next month's New Zealand tour
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has named his squad to face England on May 29 and for next month's New Zealand tour

Wales boss Warren Gatland says his players are "extremely excited" about the prospect of a three-Test series against the world champion All Blacks in New Zealand next month.

Wales have not beaten New Zealand since 1953, losing 26 successive Tests, while their record on All Blacks soil shows seven defeats from seven starts.

And while New Zealand are red-hot favourites to continue that dominant results sequence, it will also be a new-look All Blacks outfit, given that they can no longer call on influential figures like Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

"When I look back at their performances during the (2015) World Cup, for three of the games they were behind at half-time," New Zealander Gatland said.

"They had the McCaws, the Carters, the Nonus and the Conrad Smiths to draw on, not to panic and to trust their processes, come from behind and not just win games, but win comfortably.

"But a lot of the players we've been facing have been around the scene for a while and been involved in their set-up.

"They will fit seamlessly into a New Zealand set-up. A lot of them have been performing pretty well for those New Zealand Super Rugby sides, who all seem to be going pretty well. So we're not underestimating how tough that proposition is.

"We have to go down there with belief and confidence that you can put a side like New Zealand under pressure. We felt like we've done that in the past, and the last encounter against them was a really tough game in the (Principality) Stadium, and we were in front for a long period of that game.

"But we are under no illusions about how tough it is to go to New Zealand.

"The players are extremely excited about the opportunity to go there. A lot of them are looking at the next 12 months (Wales tour and 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand) and the experience of being there.

"A lot of them are desperate to want to put their hands up for the following year when the Lions go there. They are all pretty aware how important the (Wales) side's performances are and how important individual performances are."

Gatland has named a 35-man squad to face England at Twickenham later this month and then New Zealand on tour, with that trip also including a game against the Hamilton-based Chiefs.

Toulon full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who has not played for Wales since September after suffering a knee injury, is among the absentees, together with wing Alex Cuthbert and flanker Justin Tipuric, who are both currently sidelined.

Scarlets centre Scott Williams is back, though, having not played Test rugby since being injured during last autumn's World Cup, featuring among a squad that includes no uncapped players.

While Halfpenny misses out, there are no fitness doubts surrounding skipper Warburton and lock Alun Wyn Jones, who are both named after suffering injuries during recent weeks.

"I think it says it all about how tough it is going to be in terms of the experience that we've picked in the squad," Gatland added. "I don't think New Zealand is probably the best place to be blooding youngsters in terms of confidence and stuff.

"So we've gone for the most experienced squad that we could pick for what is going to be an incredibly tough five games, with England first up and then the three Tests and the Chiefs as well.

"Leigh's return is not too far away. He is doing a little bit of running now, and maybe there is a possibility he will have a few games for Toulon, and if we do pick up an injury, there is the potential to perhaps call him in later in the tour.

"We have spoken to Leigh. We have picked a stand-by list. He is a part of that. He is aware of the situation and understands that he does need some games, and he is happy to be considered as part of the stand-by list."

The French domestic season does not finish until late June, and outspoken Toulon chief Mourad Boudjellal has reportedly said that he will not pay players who are unavailable for club duty next month.

Asked about that situation, Gatland said: "At the moment, there is no issue because Leigh is not in the squad.

"His priority and focus is to play for Wales, and that's brilliant, but we are conscious of making sure that the relationship between the clubs and us stays as positive as possible.

"You don't want players in the middle of rows between club and country, because there is only one loser in that, and it's the player. If he is required later on, then hopefully that is able to be done as positively as possible."

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