Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: All Blacks coach expects fit and firing Welsh side

They lost the test to England and flanker Dan Lydiate to injury, but All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster believes Wales will benefit from their recent run at Twickenham ahead of their three tests against a team that hasn't played since the World Cup final last November.

Since the All Blacks' triumph over Australia in London, Wales, under the tutorship of Kiwi Warren Gatland, a former Waikato teammate of Foster's, have come second in the Six Nations - again to England - and will travel confident of breaking a winless streak against New Zealand that stretches back to 1953.

"It must be quite nice having a little warm-up game and have 80,000 people come and watch," Foster quipped of the test won 27-13 by the English.

"It was probably a little bit looser than a Six Nations game and you could tell that both teams haven't been together for a heck of a long time and we know what that's like when we've come together and played our first test in June.

Both teams probably have a lot of room for improvement, but both will be better for the hit-out.

"We know a lot of the Welsh players didn't make the finals of the Celtic league, so they've had a good break and we expect them to be jumping out of their skin."

The All Blacks, however, have an advantage compared with previous years.

Instead of two training camps during the Super Rugby season, this time the All Blacks have a clear fortnight of preparation ahead of the first test at Eden Park on Saturday week.

There were no June tests last year due to the World Cup, but in 2014 they were almost caught cold by England at Eden Park, but a try by Conrad Smith in the final minutes saved the day.

Following that match, head coach Steve Hansen admitted he and his assistants had tried to cram too much information into the players too quickly, but there remains a balancing act, especially with so many new faces in the team.

"There's a much better feel about this week," Foster said.

"I think the players are enjoying that they're not chopping and changing from one environment to the other, so there is probably going to be a better learning process for us.

"We can check where we're going as we go through the week and hopefully next Monday we come in charging."

As a former teammate and cards partner of Gatland's, Foster knows his coaching rival well.

"I'm sure he'd like to think he'd have something up his sleeve. What I do know about Warren is that they'll come down really well prepared with a really good understanding of what they have to do on the park.

"I keep in touch with Gats. His family live about 600m down the road in Hamilton.

"He's done a great job over there and I know he's looking forward to bringing his team back. He'll have some points to prove - that's test match rugby."

Lock Sam Whitelock is in doubt with a hamstring injury, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is still bothered by a hand problem and centre Charlie Ngatai is recovering at home from concussion.

- NZ Herald

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