Wales absentees of no concern to All Blacks coach Foster

Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – New Zealand coach Ian Foster said Thursday it was "very hard to cheer up pessimists" as debate continued to surround Wales' team selection for Saturday's showpiece match in Cardiff.


The All Blacks have won the past 31 matches between the two countries, with Wales' last victory in the fixture way back in 1953, and they are overwhelming favourites to extend that record given the hosts will be without a raft of first-choice players.

With the fixture falling outside the International Rugby Board's window for Tests, the Six Nations champions will be missing wing Louis Rees-Zammit, fly-half Dan Biggar and No. 8 Taulupe Faletau as they have not been released by their England-based clubs.

Wales have also been beset by injuries, with hooker Ken Owens, a late withdrawal after the team was announced Thursday, joining the likes of Liam Williams, George North, Willis Halaholo, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi on the sick list.

But Foster, speaking after announcing a strong New Zealand team on Thursday, was still expecting a stern challenge from Wales.

"They are Six Nations champions, you don't do that by not having depth," he said.

"They've clearly got a few players that haven't been released from clubs but that was always going to happen, so it's not like that's a surprise.

"A few of the media are focusing on that two or three days before the Test but look it's nothing new."

Foster added: "It wouldn't be a Test week up here (in Europe) without people knocking the game.

"It's a game that both countries wanted, it's been in the schedule for a long, long time, everyone's had plenty of time to plan and get ready for it.

"When you're looking at teams missing players when some of them are through injury, it's regardless of which window it's in -- injured players can't play. I think the numbers have been blown up a little bit, to be honest.

"I find it very hard to cheer up pessimists, so I won't try and change their mind.

"All I know is it's a Test match, All Blacks versus Wales. If some people want to not like it, I guess that's their choice."

'Selfless' Barrett

Foster has made several changes to the side that thrashed the United States 104-14 last weekend, with fly-half Beauden Barrett set to win his 100th cap after being included in the starting XV.

Ton up - New Zealand's Beauden Barrett (L) is set to win his 100th cap against Wales on Saturday
Ton up - New Zealand's Beauden Barrett (L) is set to win his 100th cap against Wales on Saturday Patrick Smith GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Barrett is a two-time world player of the year but Foster paid tribute to the playmaker by saying: "He's just a quality person.

"The thing I love about him is that he prepares the team first and then himself. He's very selfless.

"On the field, he's got that sense of adventure and he's his own style of 10.

"He can do the stuff that teams do but he's also got the ability to add a bit of flavour to it as well with his running game and his speed. He's massively influential in our camp."