Preview: New Zealand v France
Preview: New Zealand v FranceSHARE
It will be a replay of the last World Cup Final when the All Blacks take on France at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
Both starting line-ups look quite different from the teams that did battle on October 23 2011, as both sides set their sights on building combinations for the next World Cup in 2015.
Injuries to Dan Carter and five other first choice All Blacks as well as the non-availability of Richie McCaw have given coach Steve Hansen the perfect opportunity to have a look at some of his other options.
"We've already said that this year we've got to take some risks and give people opportunities to play and establish whether they're the future or not, and that's what we've got to do," Hansen said when he announced his line up on Thursday.
With a hand injury sidelining Carter for at least the first two Tests of the three-match series and senior scrumhalf Piri Weepu recovering from concussion, the crucial halfback pairing of Aaron Cruden and Aaron Smith have only 33 Tests between them.
Smith, a star performer for the All Blacks in his debut season last year, has been in indifferent form during the Super Rugby competition this year as have Ma'a Nonu and Israel Dagg outside him.
If the backs have form and experience issues, the forwards have an even more green look with Dane Coles getting his first start at hooker in his fifth Test to head a group looking to forge their international credentials.
Loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett, preferred over veteran Tony Woodcock, has only played 11 Tests while SamCane, the heir apparent to openside flank maestro McCaw, has only played four Tests.
But Hansen denied he was underestimating the French, particularly in the forwards, and said the All Blacks knew what to expect.
"You can see Philippe (Saint-Andre) has taken them back to the French old style, of play what's in front of you and enjoy your rugby," he said.
"Although it wasn't successful for them at the Six Nations, it's about growing into that style of game. They've certainly got a monster forward pack so we're looking forward to the challenge."
Saint-Andre has problems of his own with eight of his senior players only arriving in New Zealand this week after playing in last weekend's French championship final, won by Castre 19-14 against Toulon.
He has been forced to rely heavily on a team that failed to inspire during the Six Nations, although he has put his faith in the uncapped Camille Lopez as playmaker ahead of the vastly more experienced Toulon pivot Frederic Michalak.
"He (Lopez) came here really enthusiastic, fitted in with the rest of the squad really well and acclimatised to the system. He has trained really well, we had no doubts about his starting the match," said Saint-Andre.
Wing Adrien Plante also makes his Test debut with uncapped South African-born prop Daniel Kotze and lock Alexandre Flanquart set to make their debuts off the bench.
Another interesting sub-plot will be the role of referee Stuart Barnes who has allegedly received death threats following the World Cup quarterfinal between these two sides in 2007.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: Ben Smith has been in great form at fullback for the Highlanders this season, and it will be interesting to see how involved he gets out on the wing, whilst left wing Julian Savea should also be good value when he gets his hands on the ball. Skipper Kieran Read will look to get his team on the front foot by carrying the ball up powerfully, and big lock Brodie Retallick will be key in the tight exchanges.
For France: Inside centre Wesley Fofana will be the creative spark in the backline, while Maxime Medard could cause some headaches for the All Blacks out wide if given some space. Big No.8 Louis Picamoles will provide plenty of physicality and captain Thierry Dusautoir will provide a threat at the breakdown. Lock Yoann Maestri will be key at line-out time and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski will give them a hard edge up front.
Head-to-head: The two relatively inexperienced flyhalves Aaron Cruden and Camille Lopez will be under the microscope and it will also be interesting to see how the exciting Fofana goes against an off-form Ma'a Nonu in midfield. In the pack the battle between No.8's Picamoles and Read should be immense, and the scrap on the deck between Dusautoir and Richie McCaw's heir Sam Cane will be just as fierce.
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
2006: New Zealand won 47-3, Lyon
Prediction: New Zealand should win this match easily, they have quality throughout their team and should beat France by at least 15 points.
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 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Rene Ranger.
France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Akexandre Flanquart, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Maxime Mermoz.
Date: Saturday, June 8
Venue: Eden Park, Aukland
Kick-off: 19.35 (09.35 French time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: A 20 percent chance of rain, 13 degrees and a breeze of 25 k/ph
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), tba (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
AFP and rugby365