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Sopoaga, Kerr-Barlow relish starting chance

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Lynn McConnell     13 Nov 2017     Getty Images

It will possibly be Kerr-Barlow's last outing in black before he takes up a contract at La Rochelle while Sopoaga has a rare moment in the spotlight with a starting role.

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Sopoaga said he was feeling fresh and looking forward to playing on Tuesday.

Preparing to play a midweek game was like being involved in the ITM Cup except at international level.

But not having played a lot it was a great chance for him to get out and throw the ball around, he said.

Kerr-Barlow said he was looking forward to playing as well in front of a big Lyon crowd and an extremely strong French side.

As the most capped player in the side, with 27 Tests behind him, he said it was an unusual feeling not having all the usual faces around him while preparing.

"I'm excited, we've got an excited bunch of young men preparing to play what is a Test match for us," he said.

"It's about going out there and being really natural. Rugby's not a perfect game and I'm sure both teams will make few mistakes and hopefully we make less and come out with the result we want," he said.
Sopoaga has played under captain for the night Luke Whitelock in the New Zealand Under-20s side and joked that he had come down to the Highlanders and had loosened up a bit.

"He's a good man and I think this week he'll let his actions do the talking. For him, he's probably just excited to get back into the mixer and put that black jersey on and see what he can do. He's been in extremely great form this whole year and I'm looking forward to following him out there," he said.

Sopoaga said with six new players in the All Blacks side, and with several regular bench players from the Test side, the chance to play a strong French team was appealing.

"You want to go up against some of the better players and better teams and what better way than to go out and put your best foot forward against a fairly strong side and see how you match up. It will show your strengths and weaknesses," he said.
It was up to those players with Test experience to provide the back-up to Whitelock on the field.

"We have to, there's no Reado [Kieran Read], there's no Beaudys [Beauden Barrett] or Sam Canes out there, it's us. It falls on our shoulders. We've got to be the ones who set the benchmark, we've got to be the ones who set the tone for Tuesday night and hopefully the enthusiasm and excitement from the younger boys rubs off on us and shines through," he said.

Sopoaga had no concerns with the French labelling the game 'the second Test' because if it helped create the sort of atmosphere seen at Stade de France on Saturday the boys would remember it fondly.

Kerr-Barlow will be up against several future team-mates from his La Rochelle side in the game. However, he was more concerned about making the most of his remaining time with the All Blacks and would possibly ask those players a few questions after the game.

He was uncertain of just what his immediate plans would be after the tour and was waiting to hear from his manager about that.