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Tired All Blacks face hurdle to go through unbeaten

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NZPA     20 Nov 2006     Photosport

Following their second quelling of the French -- a bruising 23-11 win at Stade de France yesterday -- New Zealand coach Graham Henry turned his attention quickly to the challenge posed Wales on Sunday morning (NZT).

In a twist on historical stereotypes, Henry expected Wales to ask more questions of the All Blacks defence than the one-dimensional French, who kicked and barged but rarely found a hole in a solid black wall.

"I think the Welsh have got a lot of potential to play a very attacking type of game and to stretch any team in the world on their day," Henry said, pointing to their 2005 Six Nations crown.

"They were the best team in Europe by the length of the straight, I thought, that particular year.

"Last year they had a lot of injuries, to key players. All those players are back and I think you'll find they'll be one of the top teams in Europe again this year."

The Welsh have drawn with Australia and strolled to big wins over the Pacific Islanders and Canada, showing signs they are returning to the form of two years ago.

They shouldn't be a problem if Henry's men click as they did in 43-7 downing of France in Lyon.

However, it wasn't so smooth yesterday against a French side determined to cut down the All Blacks' space and time, knocking them off their stride with a physical approach in contact.

After roaring into the 40s in their previous three Tests against France, New Zealand were content to simply register a second win against opponents who they may well meet again on the same ground in the World Cup final.

"We're delighted, to win two Tests in France against the second best team in the world," Henry said.

"The French played a lot better than they did last week but it's a reasonable margin so we're happy with that.

"We went out with an intention to play a pretty free-flowing game of rugby. We created a lot of opportunities and scored a couple of good tries.

"But this was a real Test match, there was a lot of heat on, especially at the tackle area. The game lost its flow there, which would have been difficult for the players."

Henry admitted the Test would be better for his long term strategy than the romp at Lyon.

It also leaves a tricky selection conundrum for Henry and his selectors, who will want to make sure that they name a strong enough team to beat Wales but will not want to thrash some of his most precious commodities.

Five players have started all three Tests on tour -- props Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock, winger Joe Rokocoko, flanker Richie McCaw and first five-eighth Daniel Carter, the undoubted star performer yesterday.

McCaw wasn't too concerned about the forward pack's inability to create quick ball for their backs, suggesting the French were playing on the limit -- and possibly over it -- at the breakdown.

"It was pretty hard to get a flow-on because tacklers weren't rolling away or there were guys having a crack at the ball," he said.

"It's quite hard to know what was going on. We got isolated a few times and turned the ball over and they probably did the same.

"It was just a different game, both teams put a heck of a lot of heat on there.

"It was frustrating that our mistakes at times didn't allow us to use quick ball."

The All Blacks team to play Wales was to be named on Wednesday morning (NZT).