First Test Preview: All Blacks v France

Getty Images     07 Jun 2018     Getty Images

Match details: All Blacks v France, Saturday 9 June, 7.35pm, Eden Park, Auckland

Matches played: 58
All Blacks won: 45
France won: 12
Draw: 1
Last Match: All Blacks 38, France 18 (November 11, 2017)
Largest All Blacks winning margin: 61-10 (2007)

History will be made for the All Blacks with a trio of brothers starting a Test together for the first time. While there were no surprises in the selection of first five-eighth Beauden and lock Scott in the run-on fifteen, the inclusion of 21-year-old Jordie Barrett has raised some eyebrows. With Jordie at fullback, Ben Smith has moved to the wing with Waisake Naholo missing out on a starting spot altogether. With France expected to unleash an aerial attack, Jordie’s height and skills in the air are sure to be tested. Steve Hansen has also named one new cap in 135kg prop Karl Tu’inukuafe. The Chiefs powerhouse has been named on the bench and should get some decent time on the park with starting props Owen Franks and Joe Moody both returning from injury and suspension layoffs.
Normally renowned for their unpredictable attack, France has built a reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the world over recent years. Steve Hansen said his side has been looking at innovative ways to break the French defensive line. “Statistically they are the best defensive team in world rugby at the moment. They run at about a 92 percent tackle completion rate and are only letting in one and half tries per game. So we’ve got a massive challenge on our hands and one that we are really excited about facing,” said Hansen.

There’s no bigger fortress in world rugby than Eden Park for the All Blacks. The All Blacks have gone unbeaten at the ground for 40 straight Test matches since their 23-20 loss to France in 1994. If there was one team that holds no fear at Eden Park though it is France. Les Bleus will take confidence from the fact they are the last international team to defeat the All Blacks at Eden Park and will also take heart from the 2011 Rugby World Cup final where they held the All Blacks to just 8 points.
Two world class halfbacks will go head to head with Aaron Smith and Morgan Parra square off in the nine jersey. Aaron Smith has been in top form for the Highlanders with his high tempo style of play, sniping runs and bullet passes helping the Highlanders to fifth place on the overall ladder. Parra is an old foe of the All Blacks but hasn’t played a Test match since the All Blacks thumped France 62-13 in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. Parra will be desperate to take revenge for that result and offers many of the same attributes as Aaron Smith. The French maestro also offers a seasoned kicking game and will look for any opportunities to put the ball in behind the All Blacks defence. 

All Blacks:
1. Joe Moody 2. Codie Taylor 3. Owen Franks 4. Samuel Whitelock – captain 5. Scott Barrett 6. Liam Squire 7. Sam Cane 8. Luke Whitelock 9. Aaron Smith 10. Beauden Barrett 11. Rieko Ioane 12. Ryan Crotty 13. Anton Lienert-Brown 14. Ben Smith 15. Jordie Barrett
16. Nathan Harris 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe – new cap 18. Ofa Tuungafasi 19. Vaea Fifita 20. Ardie Savea 21. TJ Perenara 22. Damian McKenzie 23. Ngani Laumape

France: 1.Dany Priso, 2. Camille Chat, 3.Uini Atonio, 4.Paul Gabrillagues, 5.Yoann Maestri, 6.Judicael Cancoriet, 7.Kevin Gourdon, 8.Fabien Sanconnie, 9.Morgan Parra, 10.Anthony Belleau, 11.Remy Grosso, 12.Geoffrey Doumayrou, 13.Mathieu Bastareaud, 14.Teddy Thomas, 15. Maxime Medard

Substitutes: 16.Adrien Pelissie, 17.Cyril Baille, 18.Rabah Slimani, 19.Bernard Le Roux, 20.Alexandre Lapandry, 21.Baptiste Serin, 22.Jules Plisson, 23.Gael Fickou