Blacks braced to slay Dragons

New Zealand will look to complete another fine season with a victory over Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

The All Blacks were beaten just once this season, a narrow 21-20 defeat to South Africa in Rustenburg in September, and will look to return home unbeaten from their European sojourn.

Under coach Graham Henry they have won 31 of their last 35 Test matches.

Henry however was under no illusions about the magnitude of the task that awaits at the Millennium Stadium. He said he expected Wales to provide a far sterner test of their defence than a one-dimensional France had in their two-Test series.

“I think the Welsh have got a lot of potential to play a very attacking type of game and to stretch any team in the world on their day,” Henry told the NZPA, pointing to their 2005 Six Nations crown.

“They were the best team in Europe by the length of the straight, I thought, that particular year.

“Last year they had a lot of injuries, to key players. All those players are back and I think you’ll find they’ll be one of the top teams in Europe again this year.”

With their drawn Test against Australia as an exception, the reality is that big wins over the Pacific Islands and Canada can’t be viewed as a indication of the Dragons aptitude to match the best team in the world currently.

The All Blacks are expected to win comfortably, as they boast too much class man-for-man for their talented yet limited hosts.

They underlined their class over two Saturday’s where it took 159 minutes of Test rugby before the French broke the defensive line from structured play.

“We’re delighted, to win two Tests in France against the second best team in the world,” Henry said.

“The French played a lot better than they did last week but it’s a reasonable margin so we’re happy with that.

“We went out with an intention to play a pretty free-flowing game of rugby. We created a lot of opportunities and scored a couple of good tries.

“But this was a real Test match, there was a lot of heat on, especially at the tackle area. The game lost its flow there, which would have been difficult for the players.”

While pundits have been tipping New Zealand to lift the World Cup trophy in France next year Henry opted to downplay their favourites tag.

“It’s pretty obvious that we are the favourites to win the World Cup and it’s a great place to be,” said Henry.

“We realise we still need to improve and we are not taking anything for granted but we have just won two Tests in France against the second best side in the world and we can only be delighted with that.”

Henry is set to name his starting lineup on Wednesday and will be tempted to rest props Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock, winger Joe Rokocoko, flanker Richie McCaw and flyhalf Daniel Carter, who have all started all three year-end Tests.