Auckland (AFP) – The All Blacks’ gene pool and a late match confrontation feature in talking points ahead of the first Test between New Zealand and France in Auckland on Saturday.
Oh brother, where art thou?
When Beauden, Scott and Jordie Barrett take the field it will be the first time in All Blacks history that three brothers have been in a starting lineup. To keep the game a family affair Sam and Luke Whitelock will play alongside each other for the second time in a Test but their chance of a triple play has gone with the third Whitelock All Black, brother George, now retired. Also in the matchday squad are Rieko Ioane, Ardie Savea and Owen Franks who all have brothers who have played for the All Blacks.
Big boys’ school reunion
Late in the second half, when the benches are being emptied, All Blacks’ newbie loosehead Karl Tu’inukuafe will pack down against French tighthead Uini Atonio. The last time they eyeballed each other was at school where New Zealand-born Atonio was two years ahead of Tu’inukuafe at Wesley College. Both are giant men with Atonia reputedly tipping the scales at 155 kg (342 lb) while Tu’inukuafe has slimmed down from 170kg to 135kg. Injured All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala (a mere 116kg) is another product of the South Auckland college from the same era.
Black, Bleu and yellow
Sam Whitelock captains the All Blacks for the second time when he fills in for the injured Kieran Read on Saturday and he will be hoping for a less dramatic outing than when he first led the side in their 33-18 win over Wales in Cardiff last year. A yellow card in the 68th minute put Whitelock in the naughty chair for 10 minutes. This will be Whitelock’s 97th Test, one more than Owen Franks.
By the numbers
The All Blacks are on an 11-Test winning streak against the French. The last time Les Bleus won was nine years ago when they upset the All Blacks 27-22 in Dunedin. Of 58 Tests played between the two countries since they first clashed in Paris on New Year’s Day 1906, New Zealand have won 45, France have won 12 with one draw. France are the last team to beat the All Blacks on Eden Park with the dramatic 23-20 win in 1994 and New Zealand have been unbeaten in 40 Tests at their Auckland fortress since then.
Been there, done that
While many treat the world champion All Blacks with awe, not so French fullback Maxine Medard who scored the match-winning try from an intercept pass when they last won in 2009. Nine years on, Medard praises the All Blacks for what they have achieved but modestly notes they can be beaten. “I have been lucky enough to win here in New Zealand once and personally by scoring a try in the victory,” he recalled. “Marc Lievremont, who was then the coach of France, said we were able to beat the All Blacks because there was a lot of factors that could make this happen and it did. Coming to New Zealand is a great opportunity to not only look for victories, but also go up against the team that’s the best in the world. The All Blacks are still the same, they’re still the best team.”