Preview: New Zealand v France

Fri, 14 Jun 2013 06:24
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Injury forced the The All Blacks into a late reshuffle on Friday as they prepared to mark their 500th Test.

Injury forced the The All Blacks into a late reshuffle on Friday as they prepared to mark their 500th Test.

Lock Brodie Retallick was ruled out of Saturday's second Test in Christchurch with a hamstring strain, meaning a call up for seasoned lock Sam Whitelock, who had sat out the first match because of a fractured finger.

Apart from the forced change, Hansen has remained loyal to his starters in the 23-13 first Test win in Auckland while French mentor Philippe Saint-Andre has injected four new players.

The inclusion of flyhalf Freddie Michalak brings a 65-Test veteran into the crucial playmaker role and the addition of Nicolas Mas, Christophe Samson and Bernard Le Roux will strengthen a scrum that was under pressure a week ago.

Hansen warned his own players he wanted a noticeable lift in quality to justify their second chance.

Several players are under the spotlight, particularly fullback Israel Dagg who is struggling to recapture his best form, while flankers Sam Cane and Liam Messam allowed France to dominate the breakdown in Auckland.

Whitelock, who has been training with the team, was not initially considered because of his fractured finger.

Although it continued to cause him some discomfort, Hansen said it was "good enough for him to play" and he never considered promoting uncapped lock Jeremy Thrush off the bench.

"No. Not when Sammy was made available. He's a world class lock so we wouldn't lose the opportunity to use him if he's fit and available. As soon as the doc said he was fit to go it was a pretty easy choice."

A year ago on the same ground the All Blacks escaped with a 22-19 win over Ireland thanks to a Dan Carter drop goal in the final minute, and France have expectations of improving on that.

They historically lift their game against the All Blacks and Saint-Andre said this tour was no exception.

"We just need to improve what didn't work last week," he said of the desperation to win and keep the series alive going into the third and final Test next week.

"We were not clinical [in Auckland] and I hope Michalak can bring us this, and our set-piece must improve."

France had a superiority at the breakdown in the first Test but struggled to contain the All Black's scrum and it is here that Saint-Andre's changes should have their most telling effect.

Mas is one of rugby's best scrummagers and will pressure the All Blacks loosehead Wyatt Crockett. Samson is a lineout specialist and South African-born Le Roux, who will make his Test debut, is a quality performer at the breakdown.

Saint-Andre has also made a keen positional switch in the backs with the mercurial Maxime Medard returning to fullback and Yoann Huget moving to the wing.

Heading into their 500th Test, the All Blacks are rated one of the most successful teams in all sports with a 75.55 percent winning average. Of the 499 Tests played so far, they have won 377, drawn 18 and lost 104.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: In a Test series you expect to see players in form to retain that form so look out for Ben Smith again this weekend after he carved his way through the French defence last week. Aaron Smith was on the money from the base of the scrum and ruck and got himself over the whitewash. Sam Cane is another player to watch as he fills Richie McCaw's boots comfortably. Israel Dagg is a player under pressure which means that he will be a threat from the back. Liam Messam is another player hoping to retain his spot. These two are class players and will come good at some stage - something tells me sooner rather than later.

For France: Yoann Huget was impressive in the first Test and takes up his position on the wing this weekend with Maxime Medard coming into the fullback position where he is more comfortable. The fullback was mercurial during the French midweek game against the Blues and could hold the key to unlocking the All Blacks defence. Nicolas Mas - the experienced tighthead prop - is going to be vital to the French scrum and if he can deal with Wyatt Crockett that is the first step towards taming this All Black side. Louis Picamoles was massive in the first Test and France will need the same from him this weekend if France are going to have a shout.

Head to head: Ma'a Nonu against Wesley Fofana is going to be an interesting match-up. Both of them had good first Test matches and they will be their teams key on attack. Crockett versus Mas will be another contest to watch keenly. The scrum is going to be vital and whoever wins this contest will help their side get on the front foot. Another interesting contest will be amongst the loose forwards - France had the upper hand in the first Test and the All Blacks are going to want to regain control of the breakdown.

Recent Results:
2013: New Zealand won 23-13, Auckland
2011: New Zealand won 8-7, Auckland
2011: New Zealand won 37-17, Auckland
2009: New Zealand won 39-12, Marseille
2009: New Zealand won 14-10, Wellington
2009: France won 27-22, Dunedin
2007: France won 20-18, Cardiff
2007: New Zealand won 61-10, Wellington
2007: New Zealand won 42-11, Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 2311, Paris

Prediction: This is going to be a serious battle of attrition. The French will improve from last week and if the All Blacks cannot it could see them under some serious pressure. The All Blacks have too much class coming off the bench so they will win. New Zealand to win by less than 10.


New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg. 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain) 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Rene Ranger.

France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Bernard Le Roux, 7 Louis Picamoles, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Brice Dulin, 22 Remi Tales, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.

Date: Saturday, June 15
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (09.35 French time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: Often cloudy. Scattered rain from evening. Northeast breezes. A low of 4°C and a high of 10°C
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), TBC (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

AFP & Rugby365