All Blacks ready despite disruptions
June 6, 2013
Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki is set to debut off the bench © Getty Images
Aaron Cruden will start for New Zealand in the Gallaher Cup Test against France at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday, with Dan Carter absent from the squad after cracking a bone playing for the Crusaders in Super Rugby last weekend.
The All Blacks are also missing the experience of scrum-half Piri Weepu, who suffered a bad concussion after a head blow playing for the Blues game against the Highlanders last weekend; Highlanders scrum-half Aaron Smith starts, with Chiefs No.9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow on the bench.
In the forwards, Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles starts ahead of Keven Mealamu, with Andrew Hore omitted from the match squad, while Wyatt Crockett starts at loose-head instead of Tony Woodcock still, who is suffering a nasal abscess. Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki and Hurricanes second-rower Jeremy Thrush, meanwhile, have been named to make their debut from the eight-man bench.
"Though the week has been disrupted with injury and illness, we have still been able to have a good week's preparation and there is no doubting that our two camps have been invaluable in assisting with this," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "To their credit, everyone has worked hard off the field and we couldn't be happier. The young guys have provided that unbridled enthusiasm that comes with being a new All Black, while the more experienced guys have provided the calm focus that's needed to allow a busy week to be deal with in the right manner and to prepare well."
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre, meanwhile, named winger Adrien Plante and five-eighth Camille Lopez to debut against the All Blacks, with two players involved in last weekend's French Top 14 final - Frederic Michalak and Maxime Mermoz - on the reserves bench.
Hansen said the All Blacks would not under-estimate the French: "We all know how the French can play. The only predictable thing about them is their unpredictability, so we will have to be ready for whatever they throw at us."
New Zealand: 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: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Ben Afeaki, Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Rene Ranger.
France: Yoann Huget; Adrien Plante, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fontana, Maxime Medard; Camille Lopez, Maxime Machenaud; Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Thierry Dusatoir (captain); Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina; Luc Ducalcon, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo. Replacements: Guilhem Guirado, Vincent Debaty, Daniel Kotze, Alexandre Flanquart, Yannick Nyanga, Jean Marc Doussain, Frederic Michalak, Maxime Mermoz.