All Blacks React to Assumed Pressure in French Test Match

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PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 06: Kieran Read of the New Zealand All Blacks looks on as the players assemble for a team picture during the New Zealand All Blacks headshots session at L'Hotel du Collectionneur on November 6, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by All Blacks Collection/Getty Images)

After the period of balancing the demands of All Blacks selection across a wide range of representatives, the focus has returned to selection policy. After ensuring some players were well rested for the November end of year tour, the All Blacks react to assumed pressure for the upcoming French Test match.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has confirmed the return of the ‘heavy artillery’. That is in the form of captain Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Dane Coles, Sonny Bill Williams Aaron Smith and Ryan Crotty. The powerful group bolster the strength of the All Blacks, as the face the first of three stern tests.

France v New Zealand – Saturday, 8:45pm. Stade de France, Paris

The matchday 23 is as follows (with Test caps in brackets):

1. Kane Hames (6)
2. Dane Coles (55)
3. Nepo Laulala (10)
4. Luke Romano (29)
5. Samuel Whitelock (93)
6. Vaea Fifita (3)
7. Sam Cane (50)
8. Kieran Read – captain (107)
9. Aaron Smith (68)
10. Beauden Barrett (59)
11. Rieko Ioane (10)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (43)
13. Ryan Crotty (32)
14. Waisake Naholo (15)
15. Damian McKenzie (9)
16. Codie Taylor (26)
17. Wyatt Crockett (68)
18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (11)
19. Scott Barrett (14)
20. Matt Todd (10)
21. TJ Perenara (39)
22. Lima Sopoaga (13)
23. Anton Lienert-Brown (19)

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said in a media release, “This weekend is another opportunity for us to continue growing our standards, our game and our skillsets.  If we can do that and put in a complete 80-minute game we’ll go a long way to putting in a performance we can all be proud of.

“Having said that, France are an exciting team and playing France in Paris is one of the biggest challenges in rugby.”

Whether the All Blacks have reacted to an ‘assumed pressure’ of this French Test match, the emphasis is on improvement. Hansen would not have been happy since the close loss to Australia. And while many of the same men called back into the All Blacks, were in that side, their several hundred Test matches are indisputable.

Class is Irrefutable, but this Challenge is Les Bleus

Bringing in the artillery is one thing. Facing a challenge that is assumed–or not–is the more relevant feature. With a new ‘fear of losing’ pulsing through the enlarged tourist group, there is a change to this match.

Last weekend was a celebration of 125 years of New Zealand rugby. The Barbarians brought an unknown factor, and led the All Blacks for 45 minutes. This week, it is a step towards the main goal; RWC2019.

This French Test match will provide that, and more. Or, that is assumed. As recent injuries appear to have reduced the imposing challenge, it is Les Bleus. A team so unpredictable, their shirt colour is only known to a handful of Adidas designers [I jest].

A powerful history works both ways. New Zealand wish to rejoice in 125 years of organized representation. All the while, French rugby has been facing opposition since the 1880’s. A founding member of the International game, they deserve respect.

“While most of our players know what to expect, six of the matchday 23 haven’t played the French before (Hames, Laulala, Tu’ungafasi, Fifita, Sopoaga and McKenzie) so it’ll be a new experience for them and an exciting challenge for the entire squad.”

New Faces Prepared for New Challenge

Vaea Fifita has benefited from an illness to team mate Liam Squire. His loss, is Fifita’s gain. The Hurricanes flanker will be paired with Cane and Read, so this is his biggest test since he faced Argentina.

New Zealand v Argentina - The Rugby Championship
Vaea Fifita of New Zealand is tackled by Benjamin Macome of Argentina during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

He, along with young winger Rieko Ioane could be the new models for New Zealand. Molded on the footage of Jerome Kaino and Julian Savea, but now asked to show ‘what they can offer’. And that is an exciting prospect–provided they do the ground work first.

And on the excitement front, fans of rugby will always be attracted to any match between the two nations. While not always high scoring affairs, each side has an average of three tries per match–and if the All Blacks secure three tries, then their total tally will click past 2000 tries.

Leading all other nations, for the number one ranked side, the prospect of celebrating that mark will be the icing. Primary, if the New Zealand side can accomplish step one of this important set of matches, Hansen and Read will enjoy a glass of champagne to toast such a proud, 125 year record.

The All Blacks have played France 57 times since 1906, with 44 wins to the All Blacks, one draw and 12 losses.

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