The All Blacks will play host the their 2011 World Cup final counterparts, France, when the two rugby giants meet in Eden Park, Auckland on Saturday.
The French and Kiwis have met 51 times, with the All Blacks getting the best of Les Bleus with 38 wins, 1 draw and 12 losses. The most recent time the two met was the World Cup final, which ended in a low scoring 8-7 conclusion.
The French have selected a strong side, yet there are some key players missing, such as Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc, who have both been given a break after some tough seasons.
On the All Blacks’ front, the talismanic Dan Carter is also ruled out, so the first-choice flyhalves will both be absent, however, France’s Camille Lopez and the All Blacks’ Aaron Cruden will go head-to-head.
Camille Lopez has had a few good seasons in the French Top 14, and his strong tactical kicking will be vital to turn the All Blacks around. Aaron Cruden on the other hand has shown that his ball-in-hand abilities have grown tremendously and has the talent to catch any defender on the wrong foot.
The French will look to the likes of Dimitri Szarzewski and the powerful loose trio of Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo, and Thierry Dusautoir to lead the forwards, while Fofana, Fritz and Machenaud will be key players in the backline.
They will have a tough test coming off a terrible Six Nations campaign (finishing last), as the All Blacks will field arguably the strongest and most experienced side available in the country.
Read will captain the side in the absence of Ritchie McCaw (still on sabbatical), but the young Sam Cane will not make his absence overtly known with his great skills displayed this season.
The usual dangers of Nonu, Dagg, Savea and Ben and Conrad Smith will prove a handful for the French, who, by all accounts, are incredibly unpredictable with their performances.
Rugby Informer’s take: the French are never easy to predict, and their inconsistency is their biggest downfall. There will be a lot of personal grudges between the two sides, but the All Blacks should be able to secure the win at home with some breathing room. All Blacks by 15.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg. 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain) 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Rene Ranger
France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Akexandre Flanquart, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Maxime Mermoz.