sport

Read not taking Wales lightly

New Zealand number eight Kieran Read expects nothing less than a "bloody tough Test match" when the world champions face struggling Wales.

While the All Blacks have arrived in Cardiff on a run of 19 unbeaten matches over the last 15 months, Wales have suffered five defeats in a row, including demoralising reverses against Argentina and Samoa so far this autumn.

A game that was being billed as a mouthwatering clash between the Six Nations champions and Rugby Championship winners, is now widely tipped to end in a handsome New Zealand victory.

But Crusaders' back-row Read, who led the side for the first time in their 42-10 win over Italy in Rome last weekend, says his previous experiences against the Welsh mean he will take nothing for granted.

He said: "Over here it has generally taken us a full 80 minutes to wear them down. I don't think we have ever had an easy game against Wales since I have been involved.

"They are a bloody tough side and really come at us physically, so it is always a really tough game against them."

Wales' sagging spirits have been boosted by the return to duty of head coach Warren Gatland.

And Read expects the hosts, who have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953, to come out fighting as a result of their recent difficulties.

"You look at a team like Wales and not too long ago they were dominating European rugby and no team goes backwards that quickly," he said.

"They are still a quality side and we respect them for that, and any team with their backs against the wall will come out fighting, so we expect that on Saturday night.

"They will raise their game, they will be a lot better across the board. They won't be happy with where they are at and in that position you really dig your heels in and look to come out strong."

The back-row battle between opensides and captains Richie McCaw and Sam Warburton had been eagerly awaited, but the Cardiff Blues man has been below his best so far this season.

However Read, arguably the form forward in the global game, remains wary of the quality of a Welsh back row also including Toby Faletau and Ryan Jones.

He said: "The loose forwards, particularly Sam, are pretty key players across the board for them and we cannot take them lightly."

Read, 27, is widely tipped to take over the All Black captaincy from McCaw when the veteran flanker takes a sabbatical after this tour, and he described leading the side in Italy as one of the highlights of his career.

"It was great. I really enjoyed it, it was an awesome experience," he said.

"It is something that will be with me the rest of my life, the way the boys played was awesome."