New Zealand v Wales: Missing stars boost Welsh, says ex-All Blacks coach John Hart

By Owen RawlingsBBC Wales Sport in Auckland, New Zealand
Dan Carter and Richie McCaw
Dan Carter (left) and Richie McCaw won 260 Test caps between them
New Zealand v Wales (first Test)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 11 June 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.

Former New Zealand coach John Hart says the absence of stars like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw makes it "a good time" for Wales to play the world champions.

Steve Hansen will be forced to make numerous changes to the side that won the 2015 World Cup, with nine players who featured in the final missing.

The All Blacks and Wales announce their teams on Wednesday evening for Saturday's first Test in Auckland.

"The challenge for this team is its on-field leadership," said Hart.

"Taking out players like McCaw, Conrad Smith and Dan Carter is huge.

"I think it's a good time to play the All Blacks, but anyone who underestimates the succession planning - this will be a very experienced team."

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

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

The match at Eden Park will be the All Blacks' first since beating Australia 34-17 to lift the Webb Ellis trophy, but they go into the game shorn of many of their World Cup stars.

Captain McCaw and hooker Keven Mealamu retired, and while Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Smith have all joined clubs in France, while prop Ben Franks has linked up with London Irish. The players playing domestic rugby outside 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.

Hart still expects the All Blacks to select a "very experienced" side, adding: "I don't have any doubts about the skill set or the capability of the players who will be named for the All Blacks this weekend."

Former New Zealand coach John Hart believes Wales can pose a tough challenge to the All Blacks in the first Test in Auckland.

But Hart, who coached the All Blacks to the 1999 World Cup semi-finals, thinks the hosts have a "potential weakness" in midfield.

In the absence of Smith and Nonu, Malakai Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty are expected to form a new centre partnership - an area Hart thinks Wales could attack.

"They haven't worked together so they could be exposed," he said.

"I think that's probably an area where the All Blacks will be wanting to shore up defensively. I'm sure Jamie Roberts and co will have a crack at that channel.

"It will take a big effort from Wales to get over the top of this All Blacks side, but I certainly don't underestimate Wales.

"I was over for the World Cup and I admired their approach and tenacity.

"I think it's going to be a very interesting Test match."


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