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Preview: All Blacks v France

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Sportal.co.nz     01 Jun 2007     allblacks.com

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday June 2, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 43 - New Zealand 32, France 10, Draws 1.

LAST TIME: November 18, 2006 (Paris) - New Zealand 23-11 France.

WALKING WOUNDED: Centre Isaia Toeava has been battling an ankle injury since the Rebel Sport Super 14 semi-final against the Sharks but has been assessed and is ready for action. Lock Ali Williams had a problem with bruising on the knee earlier in the week but has recovered. The French side faces a massive job to put the travel demands that saw it arrive in New Zealand on Tuesday behind it.

FORM: Individual form for both teams will be patchy. As a first-up Test for the season, the All Blacks will be short of continuity under match conditions while the French face a battle for familiarity given the inexperienced nature of the side. Toeava was one of the form performers in the Rebel Sport Super 14 while many of the side were still coming to terms with the effects of their conditioning programme and not being in peak readiness during the competition. The effects of that should start to be apparent in the lead-up to the Philips Tri Nations.

WHO'S HOT: The front five for the All Blacks look formidable and the game will be the first chance to assess any impact that might be seen on the side's abilities in coping with the new laws introduced this year. But it can be expected that props Tony Woodcock and Carl Hayman, and hooker Keven Mealamu will be looking to exert pressure from the outset on the visitors. French prop Christian Califano will at least be familiar with the surroundings while in the loose Olivier Magne will be looking for support as he attempts to cope with the constant menace that is All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

WE THINK: While France may look to draw inspiration from the Welsh effort against Australia, the truth is that this side is less experienced than its Celtic rival and cannot be expected to fully extend the home team which is looking for an emphatic, if basic, start to the season. Now is not the time to be dazzling the world, but much could be taken from having a positive start to the season. Establishing combinations will be the key and if French defences are anything other than the courageous outfit that coach Bernard Laporte called for earlier in the week, the All Blacks are likely to storm the ramparts in unrelenting fashion.

TEAMS:

New Zealand: 1 - Tony Woodcock, 2 - Keven Mealamu, 3 - Carl Hayman, 4 - Chris Jack, 5 - Ali Williams, 6 - Reuben Thorne, 7 - Richie McCaw (captain), 8 - Chris Masoe, 9 - Piri Weepu, 10 - Dan Carter, 11 - Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12 - Aaron Mauger, 13 - Isaia Toeava, 14 - Josevata Rokocoko, 15 - Leon MacDonald.

Reserves: 16 - Andrew Hore, 17 - Neemia Tialata, 18 - Troy Flavell, 19 - Rodney So'oialo, 20 - Brendon Leonard, 21 - Nick Evans, 22 - Ma'a Nonu.

France: 1 - Christian Califano, 2 - Sebastien Bruno, 3 - Nicolas Mas, 4 - Pascal Pape (captain), 5 - Julien Pierre, 6 - Gregory Lecorvec, 7 - Olivier Magne, 8 - Sebastien Chabal, 9 - Nicolas Durand, 10 - Benjamin Boyet, 11 - Benjamin Thierry, 12 - Jean Philipppe Grandclaude, 13 - Arnaud Mignardi, 14 - Julien Laharrague, 15 - Thomas Castaignede.

Reserves: 16 - Raphael Ibanez, 17 - Franck Montanella, 18 - Olivier Olibeau, 19 - Damian Chouly, 20 - Michael Forest, 21 - Nicolas Laharrague, 22 - Ludovic Valbon.

REFEREE: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Touch Judges: M Goddard, J Leckie (Australia).