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Rokocoko relishing Grand appearance

All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko insists New Zealand's immaculate record against the Home Unions under coach Graham Henry does not diminish the achievement of completing a successful Grand Slam tour.

Victory at the Millennium Stadium against Wales on Saturday would see the tourists seal a third clean sweep of Britain and Ireland in just six seasons, while the All Blacks were last beaten by one of the Home Unions when England edged a 15-13 win in Wellington a handful of months before their World Cup triumph in 2003.

"It is never easy," said the 27-year-old. "It's always a challenge to claim a Grand Slam and we like these challenges. We are not diminishing it, it's just about us as a group setting out to achieve the goals we set, and we look to improve year by year."

Former Wales boss Henry took over from John Mitchell following that tournament and has still yet to taste defeat against England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Grand Slam tours have become a more regular occurrence since the advent of professionalism and the ease with which New Zealand have claimed the three wins that set up Saturday's potential clincher in Cardiff has led some to suggest that a successful sweep is not the cause for celebration it once was.

But Rokocoko, joint-second on New Zealand's all-time try scorer's list with 46, says he and his team-mates are fully tested whenever they visit these shores.

He added: "It is hard being an All Blacks team when you come on these trips because every week teams will come out and play their hearts out, and we expect lots of passion from the Welsh this weekend."

Wales hardly look like a side set to stop the All Blacks steamroller. Their 16-16 draw with Fiji on Friday night was as poor a performance as they have produced since Warren Gatland took charge following their 2007 World Cup exit at the hands of the South Sea Islanders.

Rokocoko added: "That last piece of play Fiji had, I thought they could have gone and got a try from that pick and go. It was like a flashback to when they beat Wales at the World Cup and they pick and drove their way over the line.

"I think they (Wales) were happy to give the penalty away as you never know what can happen 10 metres from the line and they knew Fiji would probably go for the draw. But if you look at the last six of seven years (against Wales) we have only come through those games in the last 15-20 minutes. In 2004, it was only in the last 10 minutes."


From Belfast Telegraph