Ken Owens says that Wales will need to be “alive for 80 minutes” when they tackle world champions New Zealand on Saturday.
Owens is among an exclusive club of Wales internationals to have beaten the All Blacks, albeit while on British and Irish Lions duty in Wellington earlier this year.
Wales’ long and painful wait for such a feat currently stands at 64 years and 29 Tests, having lost every game and conceded almost 1,000 points since a famous 13-8 victory over New Zealand six days before Christmas in 1953.
Scarlets hooker Owens and his fellow 2017 Lions Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau and Rhys Webb are set to be involved at the Principality Stadium this weekend.
And once again Wales face a Herculean task against opponents looking to end their European tour on an unbeaten note.
“I think it is their competitive nature,” 51 times-capped Owens said, when asked to assess New Zealand’s status.
“They never feel they can be beaten. They have got a winning confidence and a winning mentality, especially when their backs are against the wall.
“Even when they are under a bit of pressure or perhaps under the pump, they do find ways out and ways of winning the game when they are perhaps not at their best. If you look at the Scotland game (last Saturday), they were under pressure – Scotland played really well – but they found their moments of magic.
“It is their go-to (players) who can produce for them in those critical moments, which I think is probably what has set them apart over the past eight or nine years from most other sides.”
Owens was on the bench when the Lions claimed a stunning 24-21 second Test victory over New Zealand five months ago, and he added: “With us (the Lions), it was matching them physically, having that intensity and not switching off for any period of time against them.
“That’s when they are at their best. When you think you can have a rest, that’s when they tend to go up a level.
“In that second Test, especially, the boys brought massive intensity, especially in defence, didn’t switch off at all and took the opportunities when they came.
“The biggest thing we saw over the three Tests is how you have got to put them under pressure – stay in the fight, if you want to call it that – win the collisions, have the line speed and be alive for 80 minutes.
“In the first Test, we probably switched off on one or two occasions and it is about being alive for 80 minutes – expect the unexpected from them, front up physically and bring a lot of line speed in defence.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland is due to announce his team on Thursday, when there could be recalls for 93 times-capped centre Jamie Roberts and fit-again flanker Justin Tipuric, although injuries have sidelined Owens’ fellow Lions Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies.
“We are disappointed to have lost the players we have done, but there is still talent in the squad and quality there,” Owens said. “We’ve got confidence in our squad depth.
“From a Welsh perspective, we have not beaten New Zealand since 1953, but there are a good group of players who played in the summer who have got that win. We can take confidence from that.”
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