All Blacks 'planet's best team' says Jenkins
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Wales great Neil Jenkins believes New Zealand are now the world's best side in any sport.
The world champion All Blacks are currently on a record run for a major Rugby Union nation of 18 successive Test wins, a sequence they will look to extend when they face Ireland in Chicago on Saturday.
In June, New Zealand secured a 3-0 series win at home to Wales and went on to dominate the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship.
Jenkins, Wales' record points-scorer and now their skills coach, said Tuesday: "I thought we played pretty well in the first and second Tests against New Zealand and had opportunities in both games, to a point.
"But it is just how good they are," added Jenkins.
"They are ridiculous at this moment in time - easily the best team on the planet in any sport. Whenever they play a Test match, they seem to get the job done."
Wales, who have not beaten New Zealand since 1953, will be spared a fresh encounter with the All Blacks during a round of end-of-year internationals which starts for them at home to Australia on Saturday before Argentina, Japan and South Africa all visit Cardiff.
But somehow knocking New Zealand off their perch remains the goal for Jenkins.
"My view is that's what the rest of us have to get to and try to overtake. They are incredibly good, and the standard for today's game.
"For Australia, South Africa, ourselves, France, Ireland, England, Scotland and the rest of the sides, it's a gap we have to close."
Someone looking to do just that is Warren Gatland, who has left his 'day job' as Wales head coach to concentrate on his role in charge of the British and Irish Lions side who will tour his native New Zealand next year.
The Kiwi coach guided the Lions - a side featuring the best players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales - to a series win in Australia three years ago.
But the All Blacks are likely to prove far sterner opponents than the Wallabies, with the Lions having won just one Test series in New Zealand in their history, back in 1971.
Gatland said he was looking to add an extra attack coach to his backroom staff, a move which could open up a role for Rob Howley - his 'stand-in' as Wales coach and himself a former Wales and Lions scrumhalf.
"When you are on tour, you are sometimes preparing two teams [a midweek and a Test side] and there are lots of times from a coaching perspective where we are training twice a day," Gatland explained.
"You are constant and I want to be able to give them a day off sometimes or take a bit of a break."
Gatland added he wanted to cap playing squad numbers at around a maximum of 40.
"I have kind of got a number in my head," he said. "I am thinking of a squad potentially between 38-40, maybe 39.
"Small enough to keep intimate but big enough to cover for injuries without getting too unwieldy and big and out of hand."
The Lions' task has not been made any easier by a schedule that sees them starting their tour against a New Zealand Provincial Union XV on June 3 - just a week after the English Premiership and Pro12 finals that are sure to feature many of Gatland's first-choice players.
"I have said all along that one of the challenges for us is the lack of preparation time," explained Gatland.
"I think the games are great in New Zealand. The harder the games the better it is.
"What's important is the preparation time in the lead-up to those games so perhaps we will be looking for some continuity of players that have been on previous tours and of the coaching team and the back-up staff, with some new faces."