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Preview: All Blacks v France, 1st Test, Lyon

Sportal.co.nz     10 Nov 2006    

Lyon is shaping as another in a long line of interesting encounters between the sides.

VENUE & TIME: Stade de Gerland, Lyon, Sunday November 12, 9.00 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 41 - All Blacks 30, France 10, Draws 1.

LAST TIME: November 27, 2004. All Blacks 45-6 France.

WALKING WOUNDED: Thomas Castaignede is suffering a calf muscle injury while Freddie Michalak has knee problems. Meanwhile, All Blacks prop Neemia Tialata has come through testing to take a place in the All Blacks reserves and Leon MacDonald is back at fullback after recovering from a leg injury.

FORM: France comes into the match cold with only squad work and club play so far this season. However, its determination to make the most of the time left before it hosts the World Cup next year will have its intensity level at a high pitch. The All Blacks have made 10 changes but their team is now well used to change as a result of the rotation policy, and most of its players for this Test were involved in the latter stages of the Air New Zealand Cup. The five core players from the England Test all performed superbly. The challenge for locks Ali Williams and James Ryan will be to continue the improvement seen in the lineout against England.

WHO'S HOT: It is hard to go past the play of Richie McCaw who seems to have achieved a new level of respect with the acknowledgement that he is a master craftsman in his role. Dan Carter was also too assured for the English but can expect more attention from the French. But it will be the integrity of the front three that the French will most want to upset and Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock are playing so well that they represent a threat 'formidable' for the French. Dimitri Yachvili is an interesting choice at halfback while the French are placing great faith in Julien Bonnaire while Elvis Vermeulen is regarded as a 'powerhouse' by the home selectors.

WE THINK: France has much to gain by putting the events of two years ago when they were beaten 45-6 behind them as quickly as possible. They will look to make an intimidating start to upset the All Blacks and then to maintain the pressure for as long as possible. In many respects, although they will probably suffer defeat in the long run, the ability to hold New Zealand close in the final scoreline will be a considerable boost to the side in its preparation for the World Cup. The test for the All Blacks will be to absorb the expected pressure and to turn it back in emphatic style, something this side is well capable of doing.

TEAMS:

All Blacks: 1 - Tony Woodcock, 2 - Anton Oliver, 3 - Carl Hayman, 4 - James Ryan, 5 - Ali Williams, 6 - Jerry Collins, 7 - Richie McCaw (Captain), 8 - Rodney So'oialo, 9 - Piri Weepu, 10 - Dan Carter, 11 - Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12 - Luke McAlister, 13 - Conrad Smith, 14 - Joe Rokocoko, 15 - Leon MacDonald.

Replacements: 16 - Keven Mealamu, 17 - Neemia Tialata, 18 - Jason Eaton, 19 - Chris Masoe, 20 - Byron Kelleher, 21 - Ma'a Nonu, 22 - Malili Muliaina.

France: 1 - Sylvain Marconnet, 2 - Dimitri Szarzewski, 3 - Pieter de Villiers, 4 - Fabien Pelous (Captain), 5 - Pascal Pape, 6 - Thierry Dusautoir, 7 - Julien Bonnaire, 8 - Elvis Vermeulen, 9 - Dimitri Yachvili, 10 - Damien Traille, 11 - Christophe Dominici, 12 - Yannick Jauzion, 13 - Florian Fritz, 14 - Aurelien Rougerie, 15 - Julien Laharrague.

Replacements: 16 - Raphael Ibanez, 17 - Olivier Milloud, 18 - Lionel Nallet, 19 - Remy Martin, 20 - Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 21 - David Marty, 22 - Cedric Heymans.



REFEREE: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Touch judges: A Rolland, S McDowell (Ireland)

Television match official: N Whitehouse (Wales)