Preview: France v New Zealand

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 08:45

PARIS POWER PLAY: The All Blacks go into the last game of their long season prepared for what they say will be a "titanic" battle against France at the Stade de France.

The casual observer can but hope that the French put up more of a fight than the last time the two sides met in the quarterfinal of the World Cup in October 2015.

On that day in Cardiff, the All Blacks ran out 62-13 winners, destroying a disjointed France team in a classy performance that hastened the departure of coach Philippe Saint-Andre, to be replaced by former Toulouse veteran Guy Noves.

Noves has insisted that Saturday's match was not one built around his team seeking revenge for that mauling in Wales.

"Honestly when you play the All Blacks, it is not whether you're seeking revenge or not. If you need to be seeking revenge to perform at this level, frankly that's bad news," Noves said.

"The simple fact of putting on this jersey to represent France must be the driving element of our motivation."

Only six of the French starting XV featured in Cardiff, something not lost on the new tranche of players.

"The staff has changed, there's been a pretty big turnover of players, even if the backbone remains," said Clermont centre Remi Lamerat.

No.8 Louis Picamoles added simply: "We don't talk about past games."

Camille Lopez will start at flyhalf for France in one of three changes from the team that narrowly lost to the Wallabies.

True to French form of chopping and changing the halfbacks, Lopez's selection means he will be the third different player in as many matches to wear the No.10 shirt, the injured Francois Trinh-Duc having started in the 52-8 win over Samoa and Jean-Marc Doussain in the defeat by Australia.

Noves also drafted in Racing 92's Brice Dulin at fullback in place of South African-born Scott Spedding, while in the pack, Xavier Chiocci will start at loosehead prop in place of the benched Cyrille Baille.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen dropped Aaron Smith, with TJ Perenara taking over at scrumhalf in their "best possible" side.

Only flyhalf Beauden Barrett and wing Julian Savea retained their positions in the backs from the side that beat Ireland 21-9 in last week's bruising encounter in Dublin. That result followed a surprise 40-29 defeat by the Irish in Chicago and a facile 68-10 victory over Italy.

Injuries see Israel Dagg move to fullback and Ryan Crotty return to inside centre, pushing Anton Lienert-Brown out one position with Waisake Naholo starting on the right wing.

"When it came to selecting this side, we had to make some changes because of injuries, but we also looked to pick the best side possible for what we think will be a titanic battle against the French," Hansen said.

"It was a very physical match in Dublin on the weekend so we have looked to get this week's preparation spot-on, both mentally and physically, as we know France will also be looking to impose themselves upon us come Saturday."

The only two changes in the forwards are down to injury, with Matt Todd taking over from Sam Cane in the No.7 jersey while a fit-again Jerome Kaino returns as blindside flank.

With 43 wins in 56 previous encounters with France dating back to 1906, the All Blacks have as an incentive their record of points and tries scored in a calendar year potentially within their grasp.

They have so far scored 538 points and 77 tries, trailing their best of 602 points and 81 tries in 2003 and 594 points and 80 tries in

Players to watch:

For France: If it is excitement you are looking for, look no further than midfielders Remi Lamerat and Wesley Fofana. However, the direction and control must come from flyhalf Camille Lopez, while scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud will have to be deadly accurate with his kicks at goal. Louis Picamoles will provide the muscle and energy up front.

For New Zealand: While Beauden Barrett has been a joy to watch all year, the selection of TJ Perenara ahead of Aaron Smith at scrumhalf may just provide the spark that will ensure the All Black backs are at their most dangerous. Matt Todd will have a vital role to play at the breakdown, while Jerome Kaino will enjoy being back on the flank.

Head to head: The most exciting of all the face-offs is in the midfield - Remi Lamerat and Wesley Fofana (France) against Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty (New Zealand). Up front there will be a titanic struggle between two of the best No.8s in the world - Louis Picamoles (France) and Kieran Read (New Zealand), also two key players to their respective teams.

Recent results:
2015: New Zealand won 62-13, Cardiff (World Cup quarterfinal)
2013: New Zealand won 26-19, Paris
2013: New Zealand won 24-9, New Plymouth
2013: New Zealand won 30-0, Christchurch
2013: New Zealand won 23-13, Auckland
2011: New Zealand won 8-7, Auckland (World Cup Final)
2011: New Zealand won 37-17, Auckland (World Cup pool match)
2009: New Zealand won 39-12, Marseille
2009: New Zealand won 14-10, Wellington
2009: France won 27-22, Dunedin

Prediction: There is no doubt the All Blacks are heavily favoured. In fact, most bookmakers are giving them a 20-point handicap. France would do well just to keep it to single digits. We feel New Zealand will win by at least 15 points.

Teams:

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Charles Ollivon, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyrille Baille, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Gael Fickou.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Rieko Ioane.

Date: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT; 09.00 NZDT Sunday, November 27)
Expected weather: Considerable cloudiness with chances of a shower. High of 10°C and low of 5°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com