French lessons burn deep for All Blacks

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Lynn McConnell     07 Nov 2017     Getty Images

Almost as an afterthought at Monday's press conference at the team hotel a French journalist asked if the All Blacks still considered the French a major team on the world stage?

Prop Wyatt Crockett said there was no doubt and pointed to the last Test played between the sides in France a year ago.


"It was massive. It went right down to the wire and we had to really dig right down to our depths to try and win that Test match. The French on their day will beat anyone so we are definitely expecting the very best from them this week," he said.

Back to full strength with rested players joining the side in London before the trip to Paris, and bolstered by five players from the Barbarians side, the All Blacks were keen to ensure their preparation was on song from the outset.

It would be another challenge to fill the vacancy left by Brodie Retallick and fellow lock Sam Whitelock said the challengers for the role had to try to play to their own strengths.

For Luke Romano and Patrick Tuipulotu it was about dominating when running with the ball in hand while for himself and Dominic Bird it was about dominating the lineouts while Scott Barrett covered all the skills very well.

"Sticking to our strengths then helping out where needed," he said was the requirement of those who were chosen.

Whitelock said while they had enjoyed their delayed start to the tour they had continued training, were kept aware of what the players in London were up to and they had received the review of the last Bledisloe Cup Test. They were now looking to give the side an edge in the Test programme.
Crockett said they started looking at who their likely opponents might be early in the week, assessing them through video analysis and then working through the week on how they would handle them on the Saturday.

"We know the French, for as long as I've known them love their scrum battle. It's a big part of their club rugby scene over here and also obviously international. Their mindset is to really try and win that scrum battle so it's going to be massive for us," he said.

Scrum coach Mike Cron had warned him it was going to be a big week for the pack so they would be looking to have their preparation right.

"It's exciting for us front row boys, it's always a good challenge," he said.

Because the French were passionate and physical in the way they played the All Blacks would need to make sure they stepped up, he said.

Without Joe Moody and Owen Franks the side had responded well to their absence and hooker Dane Coles had put his experience to use in leading well while Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala had come in and nailed their jobs. Cron had helped make that a seamless transition, he said.

While he had become something of a specialist in coming off the bench, Crockett said he was happy to be involved if that was what was required of him. It was a 23-man game now and he would try to go out and do his best whatever his role was.

Whitelock added that the week was broken into nice compartments which included starting with the review from previous weeks to sort out their own requirements and then once the French team was named they could get down to looking at the individual traits of those players.

Whitelock said the physical battle when the sides last meet, at the same time last year, lasted for 80 minutes of the contest and they had spent a lot of time on their own line which is where they didn't want to be.

They had taken lessons from that and the tight forwards were looking forward to that sort of contest, he said.