New Zealand v France, Rugby World Cup, September 24
All Blacks look to choke France
September 22, 2011
Richie McCaw will earn his 100th cap for the All Blacks against France on Saturday © Getty Images
The All Blacks face their nemesis France at fortress Eden Park on Saturday looking to banish painful memories.
The Kiwis famously fell foul of the French in the 1999 and 2007 global gatherings and in front of their passionate home support, they will be hoping for a repeat of the heroics which saw them lift the sport's biggest prize back in 1987. New Zealand have started their campaign in fine fettle running in big scores against Tonga and Japan but face their first test against one of the more fancied sides at Eden Park. Coach Graham Henry has the welcome selection headache of trying to force three into two in the centre combinations after all three of his first-choice centres - Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and the mercurial Sonny Bill Williams - impressed in the opening exchanges.
While the Kiwis' record is impressive at the stadium in Auckland - with France the last side to beat them there back in 1994 - Marc Lievremont's reign as French boss is littered with unpredictability. And with the selection surprises sprung ahead of the clash, it is difficult to predict exactly what the All Blacks will come up against. Conspiracy theories are abound after his controversial selection with France potentially eyeing the increasingly likely northern hemisphere side of the knock-out stages draw which they would find themselves in if they finished second in Pool A.
New Zealand will be well aware of what will happen if they take their eye off the ball against France - no more so than after the Wallabies were undone by Ireland last weekend. However soon-to-be centurion and All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw will be going all out to ensure there is no repeat of what has blighted their proud rugby playing history in the past.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Richard Kahui is in fine form on the wing and will look to continue his try-scoring form against the French on Saturday. With the likes of Mils Muliaina and Zac Guildford hoping to force their way into the back-three, Kahui will be going all out to impress come Saturday
New Zealand - Team News: Graham Henry has made four changes to the side which crushed Japan with McCaw, Dan Carter, Israel Dagg and Piri Weepu all coming into the side. Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu continue in the backs while McCaw is partnered by the impressive Jerome Kaino and Adam Thomson. Sam Whitelock and Brad Thorn get the nod in the second-row while the front-row has a familiar look to it with Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks starting. Andy Ellis takes his place on the bench alongside Williams.
France - Player to Watch: The key question posed ahead of the match is just how Morgan Parra will handle the fly-half reins. Having played there for 19 minutes against Japan, he will be up against one of the world's most experienced fly-halfs in the guise of Carter.
France - Team News: Coach Lievremont has stuck to type and named a surprising team selection. Scrum-half Parra will line-up at fly-half alongside Dimitri Yachvili with previous first-choice No.10 Francois Trinh-Duc having to be content with a spot on the bench. And he has also named a surprising front-row with Jean-Baptiste Poux, Dimitri Szarzewski and Luc Ducalcon all starting. Lionel Nallet is partnered by Pascale Pape in the second-row with captain Dusautoir, Bonnaire and Louis Picamoles starting in the back-row. Maxime Medard and Aurelien Rougerie are re-acquainted in the centres for just the second time with Maxime Medard, Vincent Clerc and Damien Traille forming the back-three.
Key Battle: Richie McCaw will earn his 100th cap for New Zealand on Saturday and with him facing Julien Bonnaire and Thierry Dusautoir in the French back-row, expect it to be a ferocious battle of the flankers.
Stats: New Zealand have scored 73 tries in their last eight World Cup games - averaging 9.1 per Test.
Trivia: Vincent Clerc's hat-trick against Canada means he has now overtaken Christophe Dominici as France's all-time top scorer at the World Cup.
"We'd get hung from the highest tree in New Zealand if we went out to lose a Test match. It's just not in our psyche. New Zealanders expect the All Blacks to go out and play the best they can, whoever it is."
"We can play without pressure and will not be burdened by complexes. Playing the All Blacks in New Zealand is a challenge unlike any other and never mind the outcome on Saturday, I hope we meet them again at Eden Park in next month's final."
Prediction: New Zealand will have seen the French selection and be even more wary of an upset. With this in mind - there will be no choking at Eden Park and instead a commanding victory for Graham Henry's side.
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