All Blacks boss Hansen expects Wales to come out fighting after dismal autumn Tests
NEW ZEALAND boss Steve Hansen believes the flak that has flown Wales' way during their dismal autumn Test series will galvanise them for Saturday's Millennium Stadium clash.
Many fans and pundits have turned on last season's World Cup semi-finalists and RBS 6 Nations champions following successive home defeats against Argentina and Samoa.
The All Blacks, a team Wales last beat 59 years ago, are next up before Australia conclude an autumn campaign that is lurching towards whitewash territory.
Hansen today named a side containing 745 caps, led by star men Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, that shows eight changes from last weekend's 42-10 victory over Italy in Rome.
Flanker Adam Thomson, though, was not considered following the International Rugby Board's announcement it would appeal what they viewed as a lenient one-week ban imposed after he was cited for stamping on Scotland forward Alasdair Strokosch's head at Murrayfield 11 days ago.
Hansen, who had a 29-Test reign as Wales coach between 2002 and 2004, has not experienced defeat since he succeeded World Cup-winning mastermind Graham Henry last December.
But he is completely on guard for the threat Wales could pose, especially after they have been so widely written off.
"I don't have too much sympathy for them - I am in the opposition camp these days!" Hansen said.
"But what it does do is I know it will make them tighter. Invariably, when they get criticised, they get tighter. It will make them more dangerous, I think.
"You have got to remember there are two teams playing, and the opposition only allow you to do so much.
"The opposition have the right to be able to come at you and do what they want to do. We have got to keep our composure in those moments and wrest back momentum.
"Obviously, we would like to start really well, but sometimes that is not the way it goes.
"But, as long as we stay connected, keep our composure, keep to our game and things we know we can play, the opportunities will come for us and we have got to take those opportunities.
"I am not taking too much notice of their recent form. They are Grand Slam winners, they are semi-finalists (World Cup), and we know for sure this (New Zealand game) is the one they are chasing. We have to be up for it."
Defeat for Wales on Saturday would make it six in a row against all opponents, signalling their worst results sequence since suffering 10 successive losses when Hansen was in charge.
But the 53-year-old dismissed any realistic connection between the runs, adding: "It was a totally different era.
"This (Wales) side has won three Grand Slams and they are a very good side. When I was there, we were trying to rebuild.
"Self-belief is a big thing in any sport, and this group, although they appear at the moment that they don't have any, have some history that allows them to get back quite quickly.
"I know they will be just mentally getting ready and getting excited about this game.
"Every team that plays the All Blacks seems to find another gear anyway, so we don't want them finding too many. Our job is to go out and stamp our mark on the game, to do our best to put them under pressure."
Hansen, who was succeeded by Mike Ruddock in the Wales hot-seat eight years ago, retains fond memories of his time at the helm, and his connections remain strong, as underlined by him speaking at a testimonial dinner for Wales fly-half Stephen Jones tonight.
"It was really good in learning how to deal with the media," he said. "No, in seriousness, for me it was a great time.
"It was a hard time, a tough time, because we instigated a lot of change while I was here.
"We weren't that successful on the scoreboard for a long time, but as I said at the time reality is reality and we had to keep working hard in trying to get to a point where we could compete.
"We did that in the end, and I think we left it better than we found it. But, in doing that, I think there were a lot of things I learnt about myself and about coaching.
"You have certainly not just got to work hard, but you have got to work smart in the tough times. You have also got to keep your sense of humour.
"You learn a lot about people when you are really under the cosh, and this game is about people, it is about managing people.
"We played some reasonable rugby in the end, we restructured the rugby and a lot of good things happened. Am I proud of it? Yeah, I am pretty proud of what we did during that time."