Experimental France side tackle All Blacks' most experienced pack ever

Last seven matches between two sides have gone New Zealand's way

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 1:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 1:05am

A relatively experimental France side will have to get the better of New Zealand’s most experienced pack ever in order to end its losing run against the All Blacks in Saturday’s rugby union test match.

The last seven matches have all gone New Zealand’s way – although the 2011 World Cup final was almost too close to call – and France’s last victory home or away was a 27-22 win in June, 2009 in Dunedin.

“What’s important is for the players to believe in themselves and play without the handbrake on,” France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. “We have to be well organised and fight as much as possible, but fight intelligently.”

The All Blacks warmed up for their European tour with a crushing 54-6 win over Japan in Tokyo last weekend, and will be looking to maintain their momentum before facing England and Ireland.

Three All Blacks with 100-plus test caps and another with 98 will take the field at Stade de France, and the visitors’ squad features 853 test caps in the starting XV.

In the forwards, 105-test prop Tony Woodcock will pack down alongside 108-test hooker Keven Mealamu, while captain Richie McCaw returns on the openside flank for his 122nd test match, and fly half Dan Carter plays his 99th.

Fullback Bruce Dulin, with only seven caps, prop Yannick Forestier, with five, and flanker Wenceslas Lauret, with four, are vastly inexperienced compared to their opposite numbers.

Despite that gulf, Saint-Andre maintains France can compete. “The players are ready mentally,” he said. “We’ll have to be very good in defence.”

The All Blacks edged France 8-7 in the final to win the World Cup two years ago.

“The players know they just missed out on victory there and there wasn’t much missing,” Saint-Andre said.

But Saint-Andre has taken the risky step of going up against the tactical brilliance of Carter with a new halves pairing of Morgan Parra and Remi Tales.

“Morgan’s experience counts, as well as his ability as a quicker,” Saint-Andre said. “We need a long kicking game.”

Meanwhile, the old adage of “never change a winning side” is not one England coach Stuart Lancaster paid heed to ahead of Saturday’s match against Argentina at Twickenham.

Fresh from seeing his side come from behind to beat Australia 20-13 at Twickenham last weekend in their opening November clash, Lancaster chose a front row to take on renowned scrummagers Argentina.

David Wilson, Dylan Hartley and Joe Marler, who all came off the bench against the Wallabies, will start against the Pumas.

British and Irish Lions star Alex Corbisiero, fit after a knee injury kept him out of the Australia match, had been tipped to replace now injured prop Mako Vunipola but found himself among the replacements instead.

Corbisiero demolished the Australia front row during the Lions’ decisive third Test win in Sydney in July, scoring the opening try in a crushing 41-16 victory that sealed a 2-1 triumph.

However, it was Marler, as he’d done during last week’s match, who replaced loosehead prop Vunipola, with hooker Hartley coming in for new father Tom Youngs and Wilson replacing another Lion in Dan Cole.

Lancaster, asked if he was taking a gamble in selecting Wilson ahead of Cole, replied: “No, I don’t think so at all. He was outstanding in Argentina for us in the summer [when England, without all their Lions and rested captain Chris Robshaw, won a two-Test series 2-0] and his good form has continued with Bath this season.

Turning to Argentina’s scrum, Lancaster said: “It is a big part of their game and it will be a great challenge but we’ve got a very good scrum ourselves and a very good bench.

“It’s nice to have those three [Youngs, Cole and Corbisiero] on the bench to come on,” added Lancaster, who will want more of a cutting edge from a back division where the only change sees Ben Foden in on the wing after injuries ruled out both Marland Yarde and Christian Wade.

Argentina, however, are keen to prove there is more to their game than the scrum after finishing bottom of a southern hemisphere Rugby Championship won by world champions New Zealand and also featuring South Africa and Australia.

New coach Daniel Hourcade’s side boasts more than 400 caps, with new captain Juan Manuel Leguizamon, leading the team in the absence of the injured Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, joined by the likes of Leicester loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza and Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse