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Wales skipper Sam Warburton is relishing the challenge of facing New Zealand

Wales captain Sam Warburton has described the prospect of a three-Test series against world champions All Blacks in New Zealand as "an amazing opportunity."

Warburton, providing he recovers in time from a shoulder injury, will return to the scene of arguably his most painful rugby experience next Saturday.

When the Wales skipper last played at Eden Park in Auckland - a 2011 World Cup semi-final against France - he was sent off midway through the first-half as Les Bleus went on to triumph 9-8.

Since then, though, Warburton has led the British and Irish Lions on tour to Australia, while Wales have won two more Six Nations titles and reached a World Cup quarter-final, and he is relishing world rugby's greatest challenge.

But the odds are stacked against Wales, given that they have never beaten New Zealand away from home in seven previous attempts, and their overall record shows 26 successive defeats since they toppled the All Blacks 63 years ago.

"I am never, ever going to go into a game not believing we are going to win it. I can't wait for it," Warburton said, ahead of a series that also sees Wales face the All Blacks in Wellington and Dunedin.

"It's an amazing opportunity for us, three games. You have to have a really positive mindset to go out there, which is half the battle in professional sport.

"We obviously know that New Zealand are massive favourites. They have been the world's best team for a long time now, and they will be the best team we have played against probably in the last three or four years.

"The feeling of victory, then, is what motivates you because it would make it that much greater an achievement. So it's really motivating to go out there and try to get a win against the best side in the world.

"It's an amazing rugby country. The people are fantastic, and they are all pretty fond of Welsh rugby, which is really nice to hear.

"They all seem to enjoy the brand of rugby that we try to play, so probably anywhere other than Wales that I play rugby, New Zealand has been my favourite place."

The All Blacks play their first Test match next weekend since claiming a second successive World Cup triumph last autumn, and they go into battle without the likes of retired record-breaking captain Richie McCaw, plus France-based trio Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

But Warburton added: "They might lose experience, but they will never lose talent. I have been watching the guys in Super Rugby, and their teams have been doing extremely well, playing some great rugby.

"They will have a plan in place and guys coming in, and they will be extremely strong, as ever. Don't get me wrong, the experienced players will be missed, but the ones they have coming through is scary, their strength in depth."

Wales' most recent outing - a 27-13 tour warm-up defeat against England last weekend when they conceded five tries - drew considerable media criticism, while flanker Dan Lydiate saw his season ended by a shoulder injury that required surgery and will mean three months' sidelined.

Warburton, though, believes the Twickenham encounter was worthwhile in terms of tour preparation, and he cites memories of Wales' three-Test Australia trip four years ago as a reason why.

"It was a massively-beneficial game for us in the sense that I can remember when I went to Australia in 2012, and that first-half in the first Test hit us like a ton of bricks," he said. "We just weren't there.

"I remember Shaun Edwards (Wales defence coach) said before we got there that when you play these teams down south, it's different from when you play them at home. We found that out the hard way.

"So the big benefit of playing a quality England side is there were cobwebs, and it was good to experience two weeks out (from the first Test) that experience you get when you are really deep into a Test match - 60, 70, 80 minutes.

"The running metres are up now; we are used to the higher-intensity game, and it will be a lot easier now to transition into New Zealand."


From Belfast Telegraph