Wales’ hopes of breaking a 63-year drought against the All Blacks could come down to whether they can stay within range of the three-time world champions until the final few minutes, assistant coach Neil Jenkins says.
The Welsh, who have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953, have been within striking distance at least twice in their past 10 matches against New Zealand only for Steve Hansen’s side to pull away in the final 20 minutes.
That was no more evident than in their last encounter in Cardiff in 2014 when the game was locked 3-3 at halftime before the hosts grabbed a 16-15 lead with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.
A ruthless finish, however, saw the All Blacks score three tries to win 34-16, and Jenkins was mindful his side would need to negate the impact of the home side’s bench and finishing power in their first Test at Eden Park on Saturday.
“You would hope that is tight and it comes down to the latter stages,” the former Wales flyhalf told reporters at Eden Park on Friday.
“They go away from you in the last 10 to 15 minutes. They just keep coming and can score tries so quickly.”
Jenkins, a prolific goal-kicker during his 91-cap career and the first man to notch 1000 Test points, kept a close watch on his side’s kickers in blustery winds and heavy showers on Friday, mindful it could play a feature on Saturday.
All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden, who returns to the side after missing 2015 due to a serious knee injury, has handed much of the kicking responsibilities for the Waikato Chiefs in Super Rugby to fullback Damian McKenzie.
Cruden has slotted just 29 points with the boot this season, though Jenkins said that would mean little when the 27-year-old lined up his kicks.
“I’m sure the goal-kicking will be a crucial factor,” Jenkins said.
“But Aaron Cruden is a fantastic goal-kicker as far as I’m concerned.”