New Zealand coach Ian Foster believes Wales’ selection issues have been “blown up a little bit” and had no interest in assuaging pessimism surrounding Saturday’s showdown in Cardiff.
The All Blacks have won the past 31 encounters between the countries and look well placed to extend that record due to the home side missing a host of key players.
British and Irish Lions forward Ken Owens was a late withdrawal for Wayne Pivac’s men, joining the likes of George North, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Willis Halaholo and Liam Williams on the sidelines.
📢 SQUAD UPDATE 📢
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) October 28, 2021
With the fixture falling outside World Rugby’s autumn international window, the depleted Six Nations champions are also missing Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau and Louis Rees-Zammit as they have not been released by their England-based clubs.
However, Foster played down the significance of the opposition’s raft of absentees.
“They are Six Nations champions, you don’t do that by not having depth,” said the 56-year-old.
“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.
“It wouldn’t be a Test week up here 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.”
Foster has made a number of alterations to the team which demolished the United States 104-14 last weekend.
Beauden Barrett set to become our 11th centurion 🙌 pic.twitter.com/9nZ2CCQYpj
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 28, 2021
Fly-half Beauden Barrett will win his 100th cap, while centre Anton Lienert-Brown, lock Brodie Retallick and back-row forward Ardie Savea are among those returning as starters.
Speaking of two-time world player of the year Barrett, Foster said: “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.”