All Blacks coach loyal to France starters

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen resisted the temptation to tweak his starting 15 following last weekend's unconvincing win over France and kept the same starting line-up for the second Test.

New Zealand All Blacks' Aaron Smith (C) is tackled by France's Camille Lopez during their rugby union Test match in Auckland, on June 8, 2013. The All Blacks made at least 25 unforced errors but, they managed to post an unconvincing 23-13 win.

Although he threatened to make changes after the 23-13 win in Auckland, they have been restricted to the bench for Saturday's crucial encounter in Christchurch to give last week's starters a second chance.

"At this time of year you just need consistency so you can get consistency on the park, or improvement in this case," Hansen said in announcing the team, on Thursday.

In the reserves, hooker Andrew Hore replaces Keven Mealamu in a straight rotation while prop Tony Woodcock and scrum-half Piri Weepu return from injury to replace Ben Afeaki and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Despite the impressive impact last week of bruising replacement Rene Ranger, Hansen dismissed suggestions the wing had earned a start with utility Ben Smith moving to full-back and the out-of-form Israel Dagg being benched.

"I think Izzy is playing as well as last year minus those magic touches and it doesn't matter who you are, you can't be magic all the time," said Hansen, who rated Dagg the best full-back under the high-ball in world rugby.

"What we want from Israel is his core job done well and he's done that."

Hansen said the All Blacks focus through the week had been on continuing to bed in his game blueprint, getting people clearer with their roles.

The All Blacks made at least 25 unforced errors in the first Test which Hansen attributed in part to rustiness and in part to a need to fine tune the style of play he wants.

There was also concern about the way France hassled New Zealand at the breakdown, winning 10 turnovers from rucks and mauls and only losing two.

"Clearly, there has also been a lot of work done on how we are going to approach the breakdown and I'm sure we will see an improvement there," he said.

"Overall, we have had a good week's preparation. It's now about putting that preparation and hard work into a performance on the track that we can all be proud of."

Hansen said he was under no illusion about the challenge the All Blacks faced with France under pressure to win to stop the All Blacks taking the series with a game to spare.

"One pleasing aspect from last week's Test is that we have been left with no uncertainty just how tough this weekend's Test will be," he said.

"They have laid down the challenge to us that we will have to be at our very best to beat them."

Saturday's Test will be the 50th for captain Kieran Read and the All Blacks' 500th.

The most successful All Black is Conrad Smith, who starts at outside centre on Saturday and has been in the winning side in 59 of his 67 Tests for an 88 percent success rate.

The France team was due to be named Thursday morning but was delayed until the evening to give players more recovery time following their Tuesday game against the Auckland Blues

That match featured players from the Castres and Toulon sides who missed the first Test because of their late arrival in New Zealand after playing in the French club final.

New Zealand 15-1

Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Messam; Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.

Replacements: Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Rene Ranger

About the author

columnist
Writer: AFP
Position: News agency