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All Blacks aided by extra week's prep

NZN 8/06/2016 By Robert Lowe

Coach Steve Hansen hopes an extra week's preparation will be translated into a more polished season-opening performance from the All Blacks.

New Zealand, who have traditionally been slow starters to an international season, host Wales in Auckland on Saturday in the first match of a three-Test series.

The year's Super Rugby programme has allowed for a two-week build-up to the opening Test of the June window and Hansen says that has been a help in preparations.

"It has been a lot easier having that extra time, because there's a lot information that you have to put on the table and there's a lot of information that you have to discard," he said.

"We're a lot further down the road than we normally are.

"But the first Test, whatever we do in the weekend, I know we will be better for the game, and better because of the game, for the next one."

Hansen and his co-selectors have opted for experience in choosing their starting 15 for the All Blacks' first Test since they retained the World Cup.

Nine players who began the final have been retained in the run-on side, which contains no new caps.

Of the six missing from the Twickenham decider, skipper Richie McCaw has retired, and backs Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith have headed overseas.

Their replacements are largely as expected, with Sam Cane taking over the No.7 jersey from McCaw, first five-eighth Aaron Cruden returning to Test rugby after injury ruled him out last year and Ryan Crotty recalled to partner Malakai Fekitoa in midfield.

The two other changes are injury-forced.

Waisake Naholo comes in at wing for Nehe Milner-Skudder, who is recovering from a long-term knee problem, while Luke Romano takes over from lock Sam Whitelock, ruled out this week because of a hamstring complaint.

There are two new faces on the bench in loose forward Ardie Savea and outside back Seta Tamanivalu.

Hansen agreed that selecting the side was "pretty much straight-forward", adding that "most of the pundits could have picked the team themselves".

Wales haven't defeated New Zealand since 1953, but Hansen, a former Wales coach, said their long wait would end one day and the All Blacks had to make sure they fronted up at Eden Park.

"This is a really good Welsh side and it could happen this weekend if we don't turn up and play as well as we can," he said.

"They're desperate to get a win and desperate to rewrite some history, so that makes them a really dangerous beast."

All Blacks: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Seta Tamanivalu.

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