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All Blacks' tour sweep expected, but other objectives also exist

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How much will the Wallabies feel the loss of Kerevi? (1:08)

Sam Bruce and Christy Doran discuss the impact of the Wallabies being without hard-charging centre Samu Kerevi. (1:08)

The first northern tour in three years carries multiple objectives for the All Blacks.

A return to traditional tours - from a fixture perspective, at least - brings a sense of unknown for all nations after the rugby hemispheres were split by the global pandemic since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

For the north, the arrival of the attacking-minded All Blacks promises to test aerobic fitness through a significant lift in pace and tempo, while presenting different philosophies to offloading and chasing width with ball in hand.

The All Blacks, having struggled against the Springboks size, physicality, counter rucking, set-piece strength, smothering defence and high ball assault during their two gripping Rugby Championship Tests, can expect to encounter similar tactics that attempt to stifle their inherent preference to play.

From a results perspective, a supreme return features the All Blacks winning all remaining Tests against Wales, Italy, Ireland and France. A close loss in Paris, at the end of a 14-week tour like no other where the team is confined to a bubble throughout, would not be a major surprise, however.

No All Blacks team in the professional age has tackled a restricted, prolonged existence such as this season.

For this weekend's money-spinning Test against Wales in Cardiff, where Beauden Barrett will become the 11th All Blacks centurion, following Aaron Smith in reaching the major milestone earlier this year, expectations are such that Ian Foster's men not only win, but win well.

Barrett's occasion will further galvanise the All Blacks, and put the ever-present first five-eighth debate with Richie Mo'unga on ice for this week. A second Test outside the designated window in as many weeks - after the 104-14 romp over the USA - again pits the All Blacks against a heavily weakened team, with Wales denied access to English-based players including Lions contingent Louis Rees-Zammit, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau.

Justin Tipuric, Liam Williams, who had his appendix removed, Josh Navidi and Leigh Halfpenny among others are unavailable due to injury, and former Hurricanes midfielder Willis Halaholo was ruled out on Wednesday after contracting COVID-19 to further compound matters.

Those omissions leave former Auckland coach Wayne Pivac, in his first test against his countrymen, a mighty task of attempting to guide Wales to their first win over the All Blacks in 68 years.

Results aside, two years out from the World Cup this is a pivotal development tour for Foster's All Blacks with many positions up for grabs.

While the All Blacks tucked away the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship titles, suffering one defeat this year to the Boks, it's easy to forget Foster's squad remains relatively green in Test experience.

Starting in the back field only this season has Jordie Barrett matured to establish his presence as the first-choice fullback. Sevu Reece and the lethal Will Jordan, with 15 tries from 10 Tests, have the inside running on the wings, though the latter has been exposed defensively and under the high ball at times.

The midfield is something of a muddle. David Havili, after impressing in his new home of second five-eighth against the Wallabies and Pumas, hit a brick wall in the form of the Boks and is now under pressure from Quinn Tupaea's direct, calm, simplistic approach.

Anton Lienert-Brown's lack of game time due to repeat injuries has seen him slip behind Rieko Ioane, equally adept on the wing, as the preferred centre option.

The aforementioned Barrett-Mo'unga playmaking battle will roll through the next month, and well into next year, with both afforded starting opportunities on this tour.

In Aaron Smith's absence, Brad Weber's speed to the base and support lines have him in pole position but Blues halfback Finlay Christie is applying genuine heat to TJ Perenara for the back-up role.

Compared to the not-so-distant era of McCaw, Kaino, Read, the All Blacks loose forwards are but babies with breakout Crusaders blindside Ethan Blackadder, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu and Luke Jacobson compiling 47 Tests between them.

Confronting the northern ferocity of contesting breakdown possession will be gold for their perceptions of the game.

While the All Blacks are expected to favour a trio comprising Blackadder, Papalii and Ardie Savea at No. 8 against Wales, this tour is a chance to grow the collective loose forward experience as Foster eases Sam Cane back into the fold after he returns from six months out following chest and shoulder surgeries. Chiefs lock Tupou Vaa'i offers insight into the year-on-year growth players only gain through experience.

Last year Vaa'i was a surprise selection as locking depth became a concern. Yet after another 80-minute shift last week, the 21-year-old continues to push his case after Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu returned home, which paved the way for 20-year-old prospect Josh Lord to make his debut in the States. With Dane Coles making his comeback last week the All Blacks are now grooming four hookers, two experienced campaigners alongside destructive ball carriers Samasoni Taukeiaho and Asafo Aumua, and it's a similar story in the propping department with eight on tour.

Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala, barring injuries, will start the big Tests but looseheads Ethan de Groot and George Bower are quietly honing their dart arts craft.

Next week's Test against Italy in Rome provides Foster the platform to rotate his next tier into the front line, before the tour builds to a natural crescendo against Ireland and France.

With the All Blacks there's no escaping the irrepressible demand to win each and every Test but the fruits of building depth and experience, of shuffling the pecking order and resuming hostilities with the north, will be seen in the years to come.