The All Blacks’ determination to rediscover a clinical edge should spell trouble for France in Saturday’s Test at the Stade de France, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
For a New Zealand side that sets such high standards, it’s been a year of mixed result for the world champs.
It started with an unsatisfactory drawn series against the British & Irish Lions, and while they comfortably claimed the Rugby Championship title, their only entirely emphatic victory came in the 57-0 victory over the Boks.
Most recently, the All Blacks slipped to a rare loss against the Wallabies in the third and final Bledisloe Cup Test, while a second-string side battled to overcome the Barbarians last weekend.
The All Blacks have spoken of building depth in the absence of several first-choice players, although they’ve now selected the strongest possible side to take on an embattled French side.
‘This weekend is another opportunity for us to continue growing our standards, our game and our skill-sets,’ coach Steven Hansen emphasised this week. ‘If we can do that and put in a complete 80-minute game we’ll go a long way to putting in a performance we can all be proud of.’
It should set the alarm bells ringing for France, with the All Blacks setting out their plans to finish this year with an emphatic statement about their true credentials.
Among the backs, look out for Damian McKenzie, who knows the peerless Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett will be back on the hunt for the No 15 jersey next year.
Similarly, watch out for powerhouse flank Vaea Fifita, who has another opportunity to nail down his place as the incumbent blindside flank.
As it is, France have been hard-hit by injuries, while just this week a local newspaper ran a detailed exposé into the decline of French rugby that has seen them slip to eighth in the world rankings.
This isn’t going to be pretty for France and under-fire coach Guy Novès, with the All Blacks boasting all the necessary firepower to claim a resounding victory.
France – 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Mathieu Bastareaud, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Damian Penaud.
All Blacks – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Photo: Frederic Stevens/Getty Images