The All Blacks should still be favourites to claim a series clean sweep over France despite making several changes for the third and final Test in Dunedin, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
With the series already wrapped up, and a couple of players unavailable due to injury, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has taken the opportunity to continue building the squad’s depth.
As many as 11 changes have been made to the match-day squad, with Shannon Frizzell, Jack Goodhue, Jackson Hemopo and Richie Mo’unga all set to make their Test debuts.
It will also be particularly interesting to see how pocket-rocket Damian McKenzie performs in his first Test start at flyhalf, and there will be a significant onus on the All Blacks pack to ensure he receives go-forward ball.
McKenzie will have the benefit of playing alongside powerful centre Sonny Bill Williams, who has made a remarkable return from injury, and he will have a big defensive job to do in that 10-12 channel.
There has also been a shake-up to the France midfield, where Clermont duo Wesley Fofana and Remi Lamerat will be looking to add some more mobility and experience to the backline.
Although the All Blacks have quite comfortably opened up a 2-0 series lead, the fact remains that they haven’t performed anywhere near the peak of their powers, while a couple of questionable refereeing decisions have worked in their favour.
France have done well to remain relatively competitive throughout this series, and if they can retain a full complement of players for the full 80 minutes, there is every reason to believe this Saturday’s clash will be another hard-fought affair.
However, the All Blacks are hunting a 14th successive win over France, and this is just the sort of clash where a new-look side may well break free from the shackles.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock (c), 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Jordie Barrett.
France – 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra (c), 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Kelian Galletier, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso.
Subs: 16 Adrien Pelissie, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Felix Lambey, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Medard.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images