Warren Gatland not only knows when the All Blacks were last beaten by Wales - 1953 - but the date and year that the men in black last lost at Eden Park.

It was, he said, on Friday, June 11, 1994, when France won a match featuring a try from the ages scored by fullback Jean Luc Sadourny. Saturday's first test between Wales and the world champions just happens to fall on June 11 and former All Blacks hooker Gatland will take all the omens and good luck charms he can get.

He also knows that if Steve Hansen's men are vulnerable at any time, it is in the first test of a series. Gatland watched the All Blacks' first World Cup pool game against Argentina with interest because Hansen's team had to fight back from a fair bit of adversity at Wembley that day. Having two senior men in Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith in the sinbin didn't help, but they were a little rusty, just as they were in June 2014 when they had to fight all the way to beat England at Eden Park in the first of a three-test series.

Gatland has also taken comfort in the way his team performed at the World Cup. Although they went out at the quarter-final stage with a defeat to the Springboks, they were leading for most of the match. A week earlier they went close to Australia in their final pool game.


The All Blacks, meanwhile, sneaked past the Boks 20-18 in their semifinal and the Wallabies kept them close before Hansen's men drew away to win 34-17.

"From a scoreboard position, we don't feel like there's too much disparity. We've just go to go out there and start well and play well and stay in the fight," Gatland said. "We know how dangerous they are but they're like any team, if you put them under pressure there [can be] a small hint of vulnerability there."

He won't say it publicly - suggesting it would be "arrogant to talk about weakness in an All Black team" - but Gatland will feel there are opportunities to exploit in a backline without Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith. The All Blacks' pack will be minus only Richie McCaw, but if Wales can get set-piece parity, defend well and put a bit of scoreboard pressure on, anything can happen.

“We’ve got to stay in the fight,” says Warren Gatland. Photo / Getty Images
“We’ve got to stay in the fight,” says Warren Gatland. Photo / Getty Images

Julian Savea isn't in the best of form, Aaron Cruden has yet to convince with his goalkicking, the midfield of Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa is an untested one; these will all be sources of comfort for Gatland and his Wales team.

However, the problem for the visitors is their normal game plan of no-risk rugby probably won't cut it in New Zealand. They have to play with ambition to have any chance and, in doing so, will inevitably create opportunities for the All Blacks, who are masters at creating turnovers and turning defence into attack.

It is a balancing act, but Gatland hasn't got the luxury of time. His team's best chance will probably come at Eden Park, rather than in Wellington a week later or under the roof in Dunedin after that.

The All Blacks, battle hardened and mostly in form thanks to Super Rugby, are likely to improve as the series goes on.

"I'm under no illusions as to how tough it is to come here," Gatland said. "It wasn't until I left New Zealand that I realised that."