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Preview: Blues v France

Mon, 10 Jun 2013 10:19
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I'm expecting a French rugby team that will express themselves
Quote-end

France will underestimate the Blues at their peril when the two sides meet in a rare midweek tour match.

In the only fixture outside of the three Tests the French travel to Albany to take on a Blues team in the midst of their June break.

However, the New Zealand franchise could ambush Les Bleus if they treat this as anything other than a serious encounter.

Blues coach John Kirwan has made no secret of the fact that - despite having six frontline players away with the All Blacks and another two senior members being rested - is treating Tuesday's match as importantly as any Super Rugby fixture.

The wily coach has been doing plenty of video analysis and put his team through some vigorous training sessions to ensure they produce a quality performance against one of the world's leading international teams.

"There's absolutely no way I'd take it any other way," Kirwan said, when asked about his approach to the game.

"These guys that are putting on the Blues jersey have an incredible responsibility to be the first New Zealand franchise to play an international team," he said.

"They're playing big games so they need to play well.

"Some guys in the team are under a microscope and they need to take their opportunities - guys like Kane Barrett and Malakai Fekitoa - so we've got guys in the team that haven't had a lot of game time and they need to say to us 'we're ready'.

"I'm expecting them to get out there to compete and win the game."

There is a special place in Kirwan's heart for the French.

He played his first All Black Test against them, played his record breaking 63rd Test against them and also marked current French coach Philippe Saint-André.

Kirwan was unsure what to expect from the French, but knew his side would be in for one hell of a challenge.

"I don't know because you never know what to expect against the French the way they play," the Blues coach said.

"I'm expecting a strong team because I think some of the players who played in the [Top 14] club final didn't play in the first Test because they haven't been able to train - so I'm expecting a French rugby team that will express themselves a bit more without too much pressure."

Players to watch:

For the Blues: The spotlight will shine brightest on those guys who don't feature regularly in the Super Rugby squad - Marty McKenzie, Baden Kerr, Jamison Gibson-Park, Kane Barrett, and of course James Parsons as captain.

For France: The French's South African connection will play a key role - No.8 Antonie Claassen (the son of former Springbok captain Wynand Claassen), flank Bernard Le Roux, who are both starting, and replacement prop Daniel Kotze.

Head to head: Baden Kerr, in his first year of Super Rugby with the Blues, will need all his tactically acumen and goal-kicking ability when face fronts up to Rémi Tales, one of the key players in Castres' upset of European champions Toulon in the French Top 14 Final 10 days ago.

Previous results:
These teams have not met before.

Prediction: France is an international team and as such should be fancied to beat what is a watered-down Super Rugby selection. However, the Blues will be charged up and the French could be underdone. Still, we feel the French should have enough in the tank to edge the Blues - by 10 to 15 points.

Teams:

Blues: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 George Moala, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Ronald Raaymakers, 20 Sean Polwart, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Tevita Li, 23 Wayne Ngaluafe.

France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Rémi Tales, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Yannick Nyanga (captain), 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Frédéric Michalak, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Brice Dulin.

Date: Tuesday, June 11
Venue: North Harbour Stadium, Albany
Kick-off: 19.05 (09.05 French time; 07.05 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny and clear, with almost no chance of rain. Windy at times. High of 16°C and a low of 14°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Richard Kelly (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

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