Auckland (AFP) – Coach Steve Hansen has named two fullbacks in the All Blacks side to play France on Saturday, letting Les Bleus know he has worked out their plans and has them covered.
Jordie Barrett will start in the 15 jersey, for his third Test, with regular custodian Ben Smith moving to the right wing while Rieko Ioane occupies the left.
Jordie Barrett, one of three Barrett brothers in the run-on side, “has some aerial skills that we’re looking for and we think both he and Ben Smith give us a really good aerial back three”, Hansen said after naming his side Thursday.
“They’re world class and of course Rieko picks himself.”
Questioned whether an aerial game was what the All Blacks wanted or expected from the French, he said: “A bit of both.”
Hansen added that the balance of the French side suggested they would also attack with their big ball runners led by skipper Mathieu Bastareaud.
“They’ve made him captain to try and inspire him to lead the group. I think he will play with his heart on his sleeve and that will make him really dangerous. He’s a big man who will take a fair bit of stopping,” he said.
“Defensively, our game plan won’t change. We’re going to have to get up in their face and mow them over.
“You can’t be over confident, that’s when you get a smack on the chops, but I’m reasonably happy with where we’re at.”
– Best in the world –
French coach Jacques Brunel did not express the same confidence when naming his side, which included a recall for Morgan Parra, whose last Test was three years ago, and nine other players who missed this year’s Six Nations.
“I don’t know if there is ever an easy match against the All Blacks,” Brunel said.
“During the Six Nations we were close against Ireland and England. Here, we are playing against the best team in the world.”
France beat England in the northern hemisphere championship and only a last-gasp drop goal by Jonny Sexton denied them a win over eventual champions Ireland.
To win in New Zealand would be a “masterstroke”, Brunel said.
“We are playing the best and it will be interesting to see how close we are to them,” he added.
“Defence is easier than attack and I hope we’ll be able to rely on it.
“But we can’t only be good in defence, we need something else. In the first week, it’s a bit difficult to work on attack so we have only done simple stuff. I don’t know if it will work.”
With a rush defence now the weapon of choice for international teams playing the All Blacks, Hansen has been working on new attack plans and expressed a quiet confidence they would be successful.
“Interestingly the French come fast and then they push off and that makes them even more dangerous. They give the appearance they’re in your face but their bodies are turned out and they’re looking to cover more space,” he said.
“They give you a lot of fool’s gold out wide so we have to be smart about what we do with it.”
In their opening Test of the year, the All Blacks are defending a 40-match unbeaten run at their Eden Park fortress.
The last time they lost in Auckland was to France, 23-20 in 1994, and they narrowly survived against Les Bleus 8-7 in the 2011 World Cup final.