So what tactics can the All Blacks expect from Les Bleus?
James Mortimer 21 May 2013 Getty Images
While there has been hints of every franchise in the way the All Blacks play throughout time, whether it be a Highlanders front row, Crusaders back row and so forth, this is natural due to the fact that these players would be bring their ideas learned from a full season with their Super Rugby teams, into proceedings as well.
Add to this the buy-in and cooperation between Test coaches and Super Rugby coaches, especially when compared to their European counterparts, and this creates a synergy that can often be seen in the way New Zealand teams play.
While some aspects of individual brilliance take headlines, it is the way number 1 to 15 operate as a unit, that often has been the hidden pride, especially in All Blacks teams.
Individual play believe it or not isn't widely encouraged in All Blacks play.
Et c'est l'essence de la française (and that is the essence of the French!)
This may now be the way in the modern French game, with the exception of two notable teams in the Heineken Cup finalists, the now common sight of players in Top 14 or ProD2 teams taking risks through individual play – as brilliant as it can often be – used to be more commonly mingled with that delightful wizardry that only Les Bleus can produce, something long ingrained in New Zealand Rugby consciousness after that famous try from the end of the world.
That unity through a team game that has all players on the park operate to make a grand plan happen, isn't something that has been often witnessed in French rugby in recent times, and this will need to come to the fore if they wish to spoil the All Blacks first Test series.
The nature of French teams however, is that the above lack of perceived unity can often be their greatest strength, as a Rugby World Cup Final decided by its tightest ever margin will attest to, where France tore into the eventual champions with a ferocity and intensity that few saw coming after two losses in Pool Play.
Back to the wall Les Bleus teams are among the most dangerous of rugby beasts.
Going back to the Heineken Cup finalists, one couldn’t imagine Philippe Saint-Andre, France’s head coach, having the same level of communication and ability to work within international and player needs with Toulon’s Bernard Laporte and Clermont’s Vern Cotter as his Kiwi counterparts.
Equally, while there were a stunning 30 international players out on the field in the Heineken Cup Final, less than half of them are eligible or able to play for France, as much as Saint-Andre wouldn’t mind snapping up Carl Hayman, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Matt Giteau and Jonny Wilkinson, all on display in Europe’s showpiece decider.
The more pertinent question is whether the styles of Toulon and Clermont may translate to France’s efforts against the All Blacks in a few weeks’ time.
Under Cotter, the only non-French coach in the Top 14, Clermont have turned into perhaps the most potent team in France when it comes to the dark arts of the breakdown.
It would be overly flattering to say they play an exclusive Kiwi style, but rather a disciplined brand of rugby that has the hallmarks up front of New Zealand rugby, but more than one or two brushstrokes of French back play.
This rugby, while now second nature to Clermont, settled as one of the top five domestic sides in Europe over the last few years, probably won’t be employed by the French, although Saint-Andre will be aware that one of his side’s greatest challenges will be negating the All Blacks at the ruck.
Toulon’s approach is unsurprisingly similar to what we have seen from the Tricolours before, considering Laporte’s presence, but equally 11 of their starting XV in the Heineken Cup Final were foreign players.
That pragmatism won’t hurt in the French game, but there will be hints of what we have talked about above, and so much more, typical of the extraordinary challenge that Les Bleus will bring, whether they have won, or lost, 100 Tests in a row.
One thing is for certain, the All Blacks will respect a team that has become folklore in New Zealand Rugby history.
"There's one thing I've learned about the French in 13 years of international coaching is that if you don't respect them they'll thump you,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
“They've got the ability to be one of the best teams in the world, if they turn up.”
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