Preview: French stun All Blacks to book semi final spot
October 6, 2007

There is no room for tryscoring tearaway Doug Howlett while Keith Robinson completes a remarkable rise into the top All Blacks team today named to play France in their rugby World Cup quarterfinal here on Saturday.

First five-eighth Daniel Carter has been passed fit to start the match at Millennium Stadium, although his progress will be monitored closely this week to ensure he has recovered fully from a calf strain that sidelined him last weekend.

The two players with the least rugby under their belt at this tournament have made the cut, with Robinson pushing out 66-test veteran Chris Jack on the strength of just 55 minutes against Romania last Sunday after a month spent recuperating from injury.

Mils Muliaina is deemed to have overcome a hamstring strain and will wear the hotly contested centre jersey. Muliaina has played just 60 minutes at this tournament, starting at centre as a late replacement for Conrad Smith against Italy a month ago and then getting just seven minutes against Portugal a week later before suffering his hamstring niggle.

Howlett's omission is a major surprise given his form.

It was believed he had moved ahead of both Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu through his lively form in the pool games which reaped six tries and saw him become the highest scoring test player in All Blacks history.

However, the selectors have stuck with the Fijian-born pair who were so devastating on last year's tour of Europe.

There are three changes from the starting team who beat Scotland 40-0 in Edinburgh, with Rokocoko in for Howlett, Muliaina for Smith and Robinson for Reuben Thorne.

After nearly four years of rotating and experimentation, this, at last, is the All Blacks' strongest side down on paper.

Only minor changes would be expected if they advance to the semifinal and beyond.

Assistant coach Wayne Smith said earlier that selection would be "a difficult one", particularly in his specialist area, the backline.

"Individually the backs have played pretty well, there have been some great performances, it's just a matter of getting combinations right," he said, admitting there would be heartache initially for those who didn't make the cut.

"You'd expect every player (who misses out) to feel a pang of disappointment if they're not selected and you'd allow that for a period of time but they'll all kick in after that. They're there for the team."

Carter would be managed carefully, Smith said, indicating that reserve Nick Evans was ready to step up if needed.

Up front it was expected the only conjecture would surround who started at hooker, with powerful scrummager Anton Oliver heading off Keven Mealamu.

But it is a major surprise that Oliver will be throwing into a lineout that features 11-test leaper Robinson, who was solid in his return from a calf strain last week but looked in need of more rugby.

The 30-year-old will get that in the biggest game of his career alongside Ali Williams, with Jack reduced to a reserve- bench role.

Otherwise the pack features the loose forwards -- Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins and Rodney So'oialo -- who have been a core part of New Zealand's success in recent seasons, along with props Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock.

As expected, halfback Byron Kelleher and second five-eighth Luke McAlister are either side of Carter while Leon MacDonald snares the fullback role courtesy of Muliaina's inclusion at 13 ahead of Smith and Isaia Toeava.

?We are excited to play France. Sudden death rugby obviously has its own tensions and that?s the reality all eight teams face this weekend,? said All Blacks coach Graham Henry, ?but we?re looking forward to it.?

?France probably weren?t expected to be in this quarter final so there may be some extra tension in this match particularly.

?As a team we have really enjoyed the big occasions over the last few years and we?ve enjoyed a good and thorough preparation for this match.?

France were to name their team tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the referee will be 28-year-old Englishman Wayne Barnes, whose only other match in charge of the All Blacks was their 76-14 tournament opening defeat of Italy in Marseille a month ago.

A qualified barrister, he is regarded as a rising star with the whistle but this is easily the biggest test of an international career that barely is barely a year old.

The All Blacks had all of their 30-man squad available for selection with the exception of Sione Lauaki.

Henry noted that the loose forward was in contention for a place in the match-day 22 before he received a two match suspension on Monday.

France have retained Lionel Beauxis at fly-half in a surprise move ahead of the Cardiff clash.

Beauxis, of Stade Francais, made his first start of the tournament in the 64-7 victory over Georgia and has been preferred over David Skrela and Frederic Michalak.

Skrela, who was first choice for the opener against Argentina, is omitted from the 22 despite recovering from an Achilles injury, with Michalak preferred on the bench.

In a surprising call Damien Traille - normally an inside centre with a siege-gun boot - is selected at full-back ahead of Clement Poitrenaud. The selections indicate France's need for a good kicking game.

Yannick Jauzion and David Marty continue in midfield with Jean-Baptiste Elissalde asked to line-up alongside Beauxis at half-back.

Bulldozing Sale forward Sebastien Chabal has missed out on the ultra-competitive second-row positions and must settle for a place among the substitutes.

Instead former Les Bleus skipper Fabien Pelous, who appeared in the second half against Georgia after overcoming a knee injury, partners Jerome Thion at lock.

Toulouse's Thierry Dusautoir is given the nod at openside and will link up with Serge Betsen and Julien Bonnaire in the back row while captain Raphael Ibanez returns at hooker after missing the Georgia win.

New Zealand: Leon MacDonald, Joe Rokocoko, Mils Muliaina, Luke McAlister, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Daniel Carter, Byron Kelleher, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerry Collins, Ali Williams, Keith Robinson, Carl Hayman, Anton Oliver, Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Neemia Tialata, Chris Jack, Chris Masoe, Brendon Leonard, Nick Evans, Isaia Toeava.

France: D Traille; V Clerc, D Marty, Y Jauzion, C Heymans; L Beauxis, J-B Elissalde; O Milloud, R Ibanez (capt), P de Villiers, F Pelous, J Thion, S Betsen, T Dusautoir, J Bonnaire.

Replacements: D Szarzewski, J-B Poux, S Chabal, I Harinordoquy, F Michalak, C Dominici, C Poitrenaud.

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