Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Self-belief essential to tour NZ, says Warburton

Sam Warburton. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Sam Warburton. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Wales' task in New Zealand has been described as "Mission Impossible" back home but inspirational skipper Sam Warburton is in a bullish mood as he faces up to the first test at Eden Park on Saturday.

Warburton, recovering from a shoulder injury and in a race against time to be fit for the match, said any Wales player who doesn't believe he can win here doesn't deserve to be on tour.

"I am never, ever going to go into a game not believing we are going to win it. I can't wait for it," he said in a recent interview with Wales Online.

"It's an amazing opportunity for us to play three games against New Zealand on their own soil. If I heard behind closed doors any of our players saying 'I don't think we're going to win', I would say you're not the right guy to come on the tour.

"You can't have that mindset whatsoever. You have to have a really positive mindset to come out here.

That's half the battle in professional sport. We obviously know New Zealand are massive favourites.

"They have been the world's best team for a long time now and they will be the best team we have played against probably in the last three or four years."

If Warburton plays at Eden Park, it will be his first return since his controversial red card in Wales' heart-breaking semifinal defeat to France in the 2011 World Cup. All hope appeared lost once he left the field in the first half following a tip tackle, but Wales rallied and almost pulled off an upset for the ages, only to lose 9-8.

A year earlier, he broke his jaw a couple of weeks before Wales' tour of New Zealand. In spite of the misfortune attached to the place, Warburton said New Zealand was his favourite country to tour as a player.

If they are to have a chance here, Wales will need Warburton fit and firing. Fellow loose forward Dan Lydiate was ruled out of the tour following his injury in the recent 27-13 loss to England and Wales need another world-class operator to get the best out of damaging No 8 Taulupe Faletau.

The All Blacks' injury concerns are limited to lock Sam Whitelock, who is unlikely to be available for the first test due to a hamstring injury, and centre Charlie Ngatai, who has concussion and is seen as less of a chance. But the depth of the All Blacks, who dispersed from their Auckland camp on Friday and were due to reassemble yesterday, means they have options aplenty in the second row, with Patrick Tuipulotu or Luke Romano capable replacements for Whitelock. Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa, both in good form, are likely to make up the midfield.

Warburton said he wouldn't make too much of any test victory for Wales, despite them not beating the All Blacks since 1953.

"I wouldn't even want to dance and celebrate if we beat them, because it kind of shows how big the gap is if you are going to make that big a deal out of beating them once.

"The great Northern Hemisphere sides like the England 2003 squad beat the top Southern Hemisphere sides a few times and in their own country. That's the standard everyone in the Northern Hemisphere should try to emulate. Once is not good enough. We want to be regularly competitive with these teams."

- NZ Herald

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