The All Blacks arrive in Cardiff today shorn of two key players and braced for more hi-jinks from Welsh rugby officials in a tricky buildup to the second test of their tour.
Winger Sitiveni Sivivatu (dangerous tackle) and prop Tony Woodcock (striking) received one-match bans after Saturday's 32-19 win over the Wallabies at the National Stadium where a clinical second half ensured a 4-0 series sweep.
With first five-eighth Daniel Carter limping onto the plane with a painful haematoma in his calf muscle - but saying he was confident of playing - it means some interesting selections for coach Graham Henry's panel.
Assistant coach Steve Hansen said Zac Guildford and Wyatt Crockett were the likely replacements for the suspended duo, while there may be several other changes.
One probable alteration is No 8 Kieran Read, whose impressive efforts off the bench may see him reclaim his starting spot from Rodney So'oialo.
Either way, the All Blacks are ready for some sort of controversy this week which is fast becoming commonplace in the Millennium Stadium fixture.
"Expect the unexpected, that's the name of the game," said Hansen, like Henry a former Wales coach.
In 2006 the All Blacks performed the haka in a corridor outside their changing sheds because the Welsh Rugby Union wanted it to occur before the national anthems.
Then last year the referee had to intervene after the haka when there was a tense stand-off, with neither side wanting to be first to walk away.
There's the ongoing Kiwi connection with the Welsh side - with a fair share of Lions players including Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams, Gethin Jenkins and Shane Williams - as coach Warren Gatland tries to conjure an elusive victory against his compatriots.
"They're very confident at the moment and they're talking up a storm about it being their time. We've got to go there and meet that challenge," Hansen said.
"Wales is a great place to tour, I'm a bit biased but I think it's a great place. There's so many great stories about Wales and New Zealand over time so that brings its own mystique to the game."
Henry yesterday said Wales played the most "balanced rugby" of the home nations, and with the 12-hour direct flight to London, then bus to Cardiff and adjustment to the time difference, it was one of their bigger challenges.
Hansen felt the All Blacks had 30 per cent improvement in them after a sluggish first half in Tokyo where they trailed 13-16 at the break.
It was an impressive occasion at the scene of Peter Snell's double Olympic gold medals in 1964, which drew a crowd of 44,449 who roared when 2019 World Cup ambassador Jonah Lomu was paraded by Japan officials.
While the New Zealand Rugby Union hasn't confirmed any extra Bledisloe tests in Asia next year amid player burnout concerns, captain Richie McCaw offered local media an enthusiastic review.
"It was a great atmosphere, the field was in perfect condition, a great temperature, a dry ball and because of that both teams were quite positive in wanting to play rugby," McCaw said.
"It was pretty physical, and a win helps but we really enjoyed the occasion. We've played a few tests already this year but to go somewhere new certainly adds something different to the preparation."
Sourced from: The New Zealand Herald/NZPAReuse content