All Blacks, France see changes
Sun, 09 Jun 2013 10:27
You can think of it two ways
The All Blacks and France confirmed Sunday that changes are likely for next weekend's decisive second Test, after the All Blacks opened the series with an unconvincing 23-13 victory.
The match was decided in a brief period just before half-time when the All Blacks produced two converted tries, and for much of the encounter France were in contention.
The series is being described by rival coaches Steve Hansen and Philippe Saint-Andre as a chance to showcase players of the future, with an eye on the 2015 Word Cup.
Only eight All Blacks and six French players from the first Test squads were among the two sides named for the World Cup final won by the All Blacks 8-7 just 20 months ago.
Saint-Andre, who believed France lost a golden opportunity for a rare win over the All Blacks on Saturday, gets a chance to fine-tune his preferred lineup with a game against the Auckland Blues Super Rugby side on Tuesday.
The match offers several French players a chance to play their way into contention for the second Test in Christchurch next weekend after arriving late in New Zealand following the French club finals.
Saint-Andre has promised France will produce "a positive attitude to come back stronger for the second Test" and keep the series alive for a showdown in the third and final Test in New Plymouth the following week.
All Blacks' coach Hansen, keen to wrap the series up with a game to spare, has to choose between continuing to bed down an experimental squad, partly forced by injuries, or act on problem areas.
Scrumhalf Piri Weepu and prop Tony Woodcock both come off the injury roster, although their replacements Aaron Smith and Wyatt Crockett were among the better performers on Saturday.
Wing Rene Ranger is another to put his hand up for a start after a scintillating cameo off the bench for the last 15 minutes of the first Test.
"There will be some changes this week but by and large we'll look to have some continuity," said Hansen.
Pressed on whether Ranger had done enough to earn a start, with Ben Smith dropping back to fullback and Israel Dagg relegated to the bench, Hansen confirmed that was one selection he had to wrestle with.
"You can think of it two ways," he said.
"What a bundle of energy to be able to put out there after 50 minutes and really cause havoc, or do you put him out at the beginning? That's the conundrum."
Ranger, meanwhile, has to decide by next weekend whether to commit to New Zealand and the revival of his Test career, or take the huge money on offer to play for the French Top 14 club Montpellier.
He signed with Montpellier before the All Blacks training squad was named last month believing his international career was over after a brief three-Test season in 2010.
But the deserved recall following a stellar Super Rugby season, saw his agent head to France late last month to discuss the ramifications of backing out of the contract.
In the countdown to next week's deadline for confirming a place with Montpellier, Ranger has consistently answered "I don't know" to questions about his future.
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