France out to end All Blacks' winning run
November 27, 2009
Will France be celebrating another famous win on Saturday night? © Getty Images
France and New Zealand will bring the curtain down on this month's feast of international rugby with arguably the most-eagerly awaited clash of them all.
The Stade Velodrome in Marseille will play host to the deciding clash in a protracted three-match drama that began in Dunedin back in June with France ending 15 years of heartache on New Zealand soil with a hard-fought win. The All Blacks exacted revenge with a narrow victory in Wellington the following week but it was not enough to prevent the Dave Gallaher Trophy slipping from their grasp for the first time.
Reclaiming that formidable piece of silverware will be high on New Zealand's list of priorities as they look to not only end a largely disappointing year on a high but also erase the memories of their last, and only, clash with Les Bleus at the veritable cauldron that is France's second home on the Mediterranean. On that day in 2000, an inspired France side scored a notable 42-33 success to begin an impressive run that has seen them beaten only once in nine matches as the stadium with that reverse at the hands of Argentina in 2004.
France failed to hit those heights against Australia on the last game of their summer tour but embarked on their autumn series with renewed confidence and a new captain in increasingly influential flanker Thierry Dusautoir. A galvanising victory over Tri-Nations champions South Africa in Toulouse underlined their growing stature on the international stage before Samoa were swept aside in even more emphatic fashion.
While the Springboks were arguably under-cooked when they fell to France earlier this month, the All Blacks are in danger of being over-done as they reach the tail end of another taxing end of year tour. The air miles are looking good following stop overs in Tokyo, Cardiff, Milan and London but those performances will have taken their toll. They have yet to taste defeat on their travels and have maintained that record despite failing to find top gear but they will not need reminding that Saturday night's encounter represents another step up in class.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry has long pinpointed this game as the biggest of their current tour so fresh are the memories of their Dunedin reverse and the respect in which they hold their northern hemisphere rivals. As a result there was little surprise when a full-strength side was announced for the 60,000-sell out.
Prop Neemia Tialata, flanker Jerome Kaino and winger Corey Jane all return to the All Blacks' starting line-up in the three changes to the side that beat England at Twickenham in their last outing. Kaino's physicality is preferred in anticipation of a brutal forward battle while Tialata and Jane, who hit the headlines for their Tweets last week, reclaim their starting berths having featured against Australia, Wales and Italy.
Perhaps more significantly the tourists will be able to boast the formidable talents of captain Richie McCaw, fly-half Dan Carter and winger Sitiveni Sivivatu - all of whom missed the earlier Tests with France.
France coach Marc Lievremont has made seven changes to the side that proved too strong for Samoa as his side go in search of their own clean sweep. His side features 11 survivors from their famous victory in Dunedin but injuries to back-rowers Imanol Harinordoquy and Louis Picamoles and Perpignan centre Maxime Mermoz have stripped him of some key weapons.
Veteran Toulouse centre Yannick Jauzion starts at No.12 alongside David Marty with the halfback combo of Julien Dupuy and Francois Trinh-Duc reuniting having started against South Africa.
The All Blacks' scrum creaked against England and that fact will have not been lost on Lievremont who saw his side demolish the Springboks scrum two weeks ago. Julien Bonnaire and Fulgence Ouedraogo are called in to the back-row alongside skipper Dusautoir while the marauding Sebastien Chabal will not doubt be a crowd-pleaser in the second row. Damien Traille is restored at fullback as the versatile Maxime Medard joins his Toulouse team-mate Vincent Clerc on the wing.
With both sides bulking up and promising to meet the challenge head on this game is shaping up to be a titanic battle. France will be keen to sound a warning to their Six Nations rivals and cement their place amongst the best in the world but it remains to be seen whether the All Blacks, or all-whites as they will be in Marseille, grant them enough freedom to produce the free-flowing rugby that has been the highlight of a busy month of international rugby.
New Zealand have yet to hit top gear on tour but if anyone is going to bring the best out of their formidable arsenal it is an in-form France. It has been a long and gruelling year for the leading All Blacks but defeat here would be the precursor for an equally arduous off-season post-mortem.
Six Nations champions Ireland and Tri-Nations winners South Africa may well be going head-to-head for the unofficial world title in Dublin the same day but for many this game will be the biggest draw in terms of the road to Rugby World Cup 2011.
Let battle commence.
France: Damien Traille; Vincent Clerc, David Marty, Yannick Jauzion, Maxime Medard; Francois Trinh Duc, Julien Dupuy; Fabien Barcella, William Servat, Sylvain Marconnet, Sebastien Chabal, Romain Millo Chluski, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Fulgence Ouedraogo, Julien Bonnaire
Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Nicolas Mas, Lionel Nallet, Julien Puricelli, Morgan Parra, Yann David, Cedric Heymans
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Brad Thorn, Tom Donnelly, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Kieran Read
Replacements: Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Anthony Boric, Tanerau Latimer, Andy Ellis, Stephen Donald, Luke McAlister
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ire), Simon McDowell (Ire)
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