New Zealand v Wales: Depleted All Blacks still tough, says Gatland

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland's Wales reached the quarter-final of the 2015 World Cup
New Zealand v Wales (first Test)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 11 June 2016 Kick-off: 08:35 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport app, Connected TV, and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.

Wales coach Warren Gatland says touring New Zealand is still as tough as ever despite the All Blacks missing nine of their 2015 World Cup final winners.

Steve Hansen's side are going through a rebuilding phase with captain Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith among those to quit Test rugby.

Wales' opening game in Auckland will be New Zealand's first since beating Australia 34-17 in the World Cup final.

"There's never any weak All Black team as far as I'm concerned," said Gatland.

Wales have not beaten New Zealand in 26 matches since 1953.

"They can almost put out the starting pack of the World Cup final forward pack - apart from Richie [McCaw]," the Wales coach continued.

"It's a pretty strong backline as well."

(Left to right) Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Richie McCaw and Tony Woodcock
(Left to right) Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Richie McCaw and Tony Woodcock

Gatland's men will come up against a New Zealand side shorn of some of the stars that played in last year's World Cup final.

McCaw and Keven Mealamu retired - while Carter, Smith, Nonu have all joined clubs in France with prop Ben Franks linking up with London Irish. The players playing domestic rugby outside of New Zealand are not considered for international selection.

Hurricanes forward Victor Vito, who is joining La Rochelle next season, has not been selected either.

Wing Nehe Milner-Skudder is unavailable because of a shoulder injury, while centre Sonny Bill Williams is busy preparing for the Rio Olympics as he targets a place in New Zealand's sevens squad.

Wales' summer fixtures:
11 June: New Zealand (Auckland)
14 June: Chiefs (Hamilton)
18 June: New Zealand (Wellington)
25 June: New Zealand (Dunedin)

But Gatland insists there is "never going to be a weakness" in the All Blacks side, despite the high-profile absentees.

He added: "What there is, is sometimes young, exciting [and] talented players coming through who are a little bit inexperienced.

"I presume there are some youngsters they would want to try and get some game time to and to blood in.

"We're going to make it as difficult as possible to allow them to do that.

"We're not here just to make up the numbers and we are not here to start the rebuilding phase of New Zealand rugby either.

"We know how dangerous they are, but it's like every team - you put them under pressure and hopefully there is some small hint of vulnerability."

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