The All Blacks will get the post-Carter/McCaw era underway this Saturday when they take on Wales.
New Zealand v Wales | Saturday 11 June | Eden Park | 09:35 (CAT)
To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 1/33 | Draw 50/1 | Wales 15/2
New Zealand (-20.5) 9/10 | Wales (+20.5) 9/10
As I alluded to in my introduction, this fresh crop of All Blacks are about to usher in a new era. The two talismanic forces in New Zealand rugby have bid the national set up adieu with Richie McCaw having retired to a life of flying helicopters – this is the great man's new hobby – and Dan Carter having moved to the capital of France to bolster his retirement fund.
While most teams would be significantly hindered by the loss of their two most talented players, I doubt this All Black side will feel any ill effects.
The thing about rugby in the 'land of the long white cloud' is that every kid in the country’s biggest dream is to someday pull on the treasured All Black Jumper. This has subsequently created a playing pool deeper than Kimberley’s Big Hole. Add in a fantastic coaching system that encourages youngsters to play with their gut from the moment they take to a rugby field at the age of six and you’ve got a recipe for not only short term success – ala their 2015 World Cup victory – but also the perfect platform to create a never ending rugby dynasty.
So what can we expect from this new-look New Zealand side? Well, one thing's is for sure, they’ll look to play the traditional Kiwi brand of rugby and try and keep the ball in hand as much as possible. And with Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Julian Savea, Beauden Barret, and Waisake Naholo in their squad, why wouldn't they keep it in hand!
Perhaps I have exaggerated the whole new look motif a bit. While there are six uncapped players in the New Zealand’s squad, there are still a plethora of veterans floating around including the man who has taken on the skipper’s armband, Kieran Reed.
The Crusaders number eight has been in fine fettle during this year’s Super Rugby season. He is likely to be joined in the starting loose trio this weekend by Ardie Savea ,whose had a magnificent season for the Hurricanes, and Chiefs skipper Sam Cane.
While excited to see how that loose trio functions, I’m even more keen to see how their new look centre pairing goes. While Hansen is yet to announce his match day 23, the New Zealand mentor has hinted at pairing Malakai Fekitoa with Charlie Ngati. If this does come to fruition, then Wales’ centres will be in for a long evening out in Auckland.
I wonder if the day will ever come where Wales mentor Warren Gatland has a fully fit squad to select from. The Hamilton-native will return to the country of his birth with a severely depleted squad that’s missing stalwarts Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathon Davies, Justin Tipiric, and utility back Alex Cuthbert.
To compound matters for Gatland, his skipper Sam Warburton hasn’t played a game since April this year due to a shoulder injury.
So what sort of Welsh side can we expect to take to the Eden Park pitch this Saturday? Well, they’ll have a few veterans out there with talismanic inside-centre Jamie Roberts being the pick of the bunch.
Roberts is likely to by partnered by youngster Tyler Morgan who performed admirably for the Dragons at last year’s World Cup. The duo will be tasked with stopping a rampant All Black midfield.
While Roberts and Morgan are likely to have the hardest job this Saturday, the Welsh forwards are also in for a hell of a contest. The Kiwis possess some of the best forwards in the game, who, despite having some of the most incredible skill sets in world rugby, don’t shirk their duties at the breakdown or at the set piece.
Verdict: New Zealand (-20.5) 9/10
I really feel for this Welsh side. They are about to get one of the least productive tours in the history of world rugby underway. They simply don’t have the quality to match this New Zealand side and I will be shocked if they keep the losing margin under 30 points.