All Blacks prepare for ‘titanic’ French struggle as they seek to cap fine season with Paris raid

New Zealand go into the last game of their long season preparing for what they say will be an epic battle at the Stade de France

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 12:08pm

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 quarter-final of the Rugby 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, 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.”

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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 fly-half 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.

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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 full-back and Ryan Crotty return to inside centre, pushing Anton Lienart-Brown out one position with Waisake Naholo starting on the right wing.

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“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 night.”

The only two changes in the forwards are down to injury, with Matt Todd taking over from Sam Cane in the number seven jersey while a fit again Jerome Kaino returns as blindside flanker.

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 2007.