Stakes high in All Blacks v France rematch

NZPA     11 Nov 2006    

The stunning 45-6 triumph at Paris set the benchmark for coach Graham Henry's All Blacks, a standard they have hovered near to for two years.

Methodically, they have collected all the silverware on offer, put space between themselves and the rest as the world No 1 ranked side and turned tradition on its head with some of their preparation methods for next year's World Cup.

For France, the Paris result had a revolutionary impact.

Coach Bernard Laporte identified the All Blacks' extra physicality as the difference and has hardened his team up while maintaining their inherent backline threat.

"I believe that if you want to go into Formula One racing, you need a Formula One engine," he said.

Henry recognised a stung side, having watched the French return to the world No 2 ranking, ample improvement within them ahead of their campaign as World Cup hosts.

"I think any defeat, and we've had a few, makes you analyse your game and make sure you're on the right track," Henry said.

"There's some positives about getting beaten, they're pretty limited and they hurt but I'm sure that it was a positive for them.

"They have analysed their game and it will give them huge motivation this weekend to see where the measuring stick is now."

For the fortnight since the All Blacks arrived in Europe, the European media has described the tests here and at Paris a week later as World Cup final previews, with massive psychological points to be won.

Yet while the All Blacks have attracted huge attention in London, Marseille and Lyon, the silence out of the French training base on the outskirts of Paris has been deafening.

Assistant coach Wayne Smith wasn't surprised, believing the stewing hosts would be saving their talking for Stade de Gerland tomorrow night.

"The biggest thing to take from 2004 is that they're hurting... it's just going to make the challenge a lot tougher," he said.

"They're going to front, they've got a lot of pride at stake, they won't want to be humiliated in Lyon."

Having made 11 changes from the side who beat England last week, Henry acknowledges the risk that there might be a repeat of the rust exposed at Twickenham.

He will hope the same front row and loose forwards who dominated at the Stade de France two years ago can repeat the dose, leaving a midfield with greenish tinge -- Luke McAlister and Conrad Smith -- on the front foot against France's noted strike weapons.

The All Blacks have cleared 30 points in nine of their last 10 tests against France dating back to 1995, losing just twice.

The last two tests have been won by a combined score of 85-19.

Laporte's men have won 10 of their last 11 tests against other opponents but the All Blacks have developed a mental hold on them, something they will want to escape on Sunday, the first of four tests between these powerful sides in the space of seven months.

The All Blacks have enjoyed a problem-free buildup in Marseilles, troubled only by the short, six-day turnaround since Twickenham.

"It's been a bit of a rush, it takes you back to the old days with midweek games," Wayne Smith said.

"We've just had to be really smart with the way that we've operated.

"You still have to get a certain amount of combinations in and contact work. Hopefully we've done enough."