Wales v New Zealand, Millennium Stadium, November 27
All Blacks' big guns set to face Wales
ESPNscrum Staff
November 22, 2010
All Blacks captani Richie McCaw and head coach Graham Henry, New Zealand training session, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland, November 19, 2010
All Blacks head coach Graham Henry is set to look to Richie McCaw to lead his side into battle once more in Cardiff © Getty Images

All Blacks head coach Graham Henry looks set to name his strongest side to tackle Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Player rotation has been kept to a minimum on their current five-Test tour as Henry treats this schedule as a precursor to next year's World Cup and as a result the All Blacks are expected to call on their big guns as they go in search of their fourth Grand Slam tour and second in three years.

The experienced spine of Mils Muliaina, Daniel Carter, Kieran Read Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks has been in perfect alignment since they started the Bledisloe Cup defeat in Hong Kong on October 30 - and had Keven Mealamu not been suspended and Brad Thorn tweak a hamstring, those veterans might also have started in every match leading into the tour finale.

Henry would not speculate on the possible make-up of his team ahead of its announcement on Thursday but history suggests the optimum line-up will be selected against a Welsh counterpart stung by their 16-16 draw with Fiji. In 2004 the best available All Blacks line-up thrashed France 45-6 at Paris in the tour finale.

Wales suffered a 45-10 defeat in the climax to the 2006 end of year tour while in 2008, with the Hillary Shield to be awarded for the first time and the Grand Slam at stake, a strong side crushed England 32-6. Twelve months ago France were punished 39-12 in Marseille before the All Blacks switched to holiday mode.

Henry only took liberties in the last leg of his inaugural Grand Slam campaign in 2005 when he could afford to start some second-tier players against Scotland - a 29-10 win that marked the end of Tana Umaga's All Blacks career.

Emphasising his new outlook Henry has so far refused to start Daniel Braid on the openside flank for his captain while Carter has been indispensable, especially following Stephen Donald's unforgettable final quarter against the Wallabies at Hong Kong Stadium. McCaw and Muliaina became the All Blacks' most-capped test players during the 38-18 victory over Ireland, and despite that joint accolade they will not want to rest on their laurels.

Carter also only needs three points to overtake Jonny Wilkinson's current record of 1178 so it seems inconceivable he will be denied a shot for glory against the nation he debuted against in 2003.

Asked if he was likely to maintain tradition and compliment Wales by naming his preferred combination, Henry was noncommittal. "It could happen that way, we (selectors) haven't met yet. It's a possibility," he said.

Mealamu seems assured of returning following his two-week ban for striking England captain Lewis Moody while Henry will be anxious Brad Thorn's hamstring is fine given Tom Donnelly, his second row partner during the Tri-Nations, suffered a tour-ending knee injury against the Irish. If Thorn's is again unable to reach the 50-test landmark, Sam Whitelock and Anthony Boric will start and blindside flanker Jerome Kaino will provide cover if necessary.

The squad stretch their legs with a low key recovery session today while Henry said practice may not be conducted with its usual intensity this week. "I would imagine we won't be as heavy as we have been," Henry said it relation to the training regime. "It's the 14th Test in five months - it's a pretty demanding programme so we want to make sure we've got a full tank for the weekend. I don't think we'll be over working this week," he said.

Wales, meanwhile, will be working overtime to regroup after disappointing losses to Australia and South Africa were superseded by the draw with Fiji last weekend. Henry watched the second-string Wales line-up struggle and labelled it irrelevant.

"It won't be any indication of how they'll play this week. They'll come out with all guns blazing and it will be a difficult Test match," he said, equating an under strength line-up's stalemate with the Pacific Islanders with Ireland's curtain raiser for their All Blacks Test - a 10-point win over Samoa. "If you'd watched them play Samoa the week before you'd think they're not up to much," said Henry, who praised the Irish performance at Aviva Stadium.

Meanwhile, Henry was looking forward to rekindling friendships made during his stint as Wales head coach between 1998-2002. "It's good to come back here, it's good to catch up with old mates."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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