All Blacks enter post-McCaw rugby era

New skipper Kieran Read admits it feels a bit different.

The All Blacks are back in action for the first time since successfully defending the World Cup, when they face Wales in Auckland on Saturday night in the opening match of a three-Test series.

They will be missing a number of long-serving personnel, who stepped down from the international stage after the Twickenham final, including two greats of the game in Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

McCaw’s retirement after a world record 148 Tests has resulted in Read taking over the captaincy on a permanent basis.

The 84-Test No.8 says it’s a different feel from the nine other times he has stood in as Test skipper.

“I think the whole group feels a little bit different, naturally, but we know what’s ahead of us,” he said on Friday.

“It’s a Test match come tomorrow night and it’s going to be won by inches and us going out there and doing our best.”

The All Blacks will go in as strong favourites and with history firmly in their favour.

They last lost to Wales 63 years ago, are 7-0 against them on home soil and haven’t been beaten by anyone at Eden Park since 1994.

But they are traditionally slow starters to an international season, although the Super Rugby schedule this year has given them an additional week to prepare.

Coach Steven Hansen has opted for experience in his run-on 15.

There are nine survivors from the side which started the World Cup final and the six changes were forced either by retirement, players leaving for overseas or injury.

One of the pre-match talking points has been about the midfield, with the All Blacks losing the experienced pair of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith to French club rugby, while Sonny Bill Williams is targeting Olympic sevens.

Hansen has gone for the combination of Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa, who will be against the tried-and-tested pairing of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.

Wales, under New Zealand coach Warren Gatland, finished runners-up to England in this year’s Six Nations, but their tour build-up included a disappointing loss to the English a fortnight ago.

They have skipper Sam Warburton, who missed that defeat through injury, back in the side as one of five changes.

Meanwhile, lock Alun Wyn Jones will bring up a personal milestone by clocking up 100 caps.

Read agreed that there have been changes to the Wales game plan in recent times, with more flair being exhibited, but he noted that physical confrontation was still a key facet of their play.

“They’ve probably got different skill sets than they had when I first came in,” he said.

“But their natural game is abrasive and physical and taking you on up front, so that’s what we’re expecting.”

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