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'We don't see them at all as being vulnerable'

By PA
Alun Wyn Jones tackles Brodie Retallick. (Photo by Billy Stickland/Photosport)

Wales assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys has dismissed any notion of New Zealand vulnerability heading into Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series clash.

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It has been a rollercoaster year for All Blacks head coach Ian Foster and his players, with New Zealand losing four of their 10 Tests.

Those defeats included two home reversals against Ireland and Argentina toppling them in Christchurch, while they dropped to number four on World Rugby’s official rankings list.

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But the All Blacks still won another Rugby Championship title after finishing the southern hemisphere’s showpiece competition with a run of victories.

And they have arrived in Cardiff, targeting a 33rd successive win against Wales, having not lost to them since 1953.

New Zealand average 35 points a game against Wales during that long unbeaten run, totalling more than 1,100 points while their opponents have mustered just 378.

Wales went desperately close to halting that sequence during Mike Ruddock’s coaching reign, losing 26-25 at home in 2004.

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But on 24 of those 32 occasions, Wales have been defeated by 15 points or more, which underlines how big a task they face.

“However many people write them off, they still come through and are still a massive threat,” Wales forwards specialist Humphreys said.

“They can hurt you in two phases, they can score tries in five minutes and put you out of the game. That hasn’t changed.

“They are a little bit different in terms of their mindset about coming at you at set-piece. They are a lot more aggressive now.

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“We don’t see them at all as being vulnerable – we see them as the winners of the Rugby Championship.

“They can put you out of the game in a heartbeat. You feel you are in the game after 60 minutes, then a couple of errors and the game is gone.

“We’ve talked about living every moment. You step off for a second against these guys and the game is gone from you. They have threats all over the place.

“They have overcome a lot of odds, a lot of press speculation, and they still managed to perform in the Rugby Championship.”

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac is due to name his starting XV on Thursday.

The build-up has seen a number of players with injury issues, including key performers like Taulupe Faletau, George North and Josh Adams.

Pivac, meanwhile, was already without four British and Irish Lions in Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Wyn Jones and Josh Navidi, who were not selected for a 35-man autumn squad because of injuries.

Gareth Anscombe is expected to fill the fly-half role vacated by Biggar, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny could make a first Wales start since suffering major knee ligament damage 16 months ago.

Captain Justin Tipuric is likely to be joined in the back-row by fellow openside flanker Tommy Reffell, but if a calf muscle injury sidelines Faletau, then Tipuric could move to number eight.

And any enforced back-row reshuffle might open the door for Exeter’s highly-rated Christ Tshiunza or Scarlets’ uncapped Josh MacLeod.

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