The All Blacks team scheduled to face France this Saturday at Stade de France sends a very clear message: The All Blacks are not dismissing the threat the French Team poses. That shows a couple of things to me. The All Blacks are treating their rivals with a level of respect they deserve, and Les Bleus are in for one hell of a battle.
France are not an easy beat team, and never have been. Captain Thierry Dusautoir is an imposing figure on the field, and leads a squad that knows how to bring a hard, physical game to any opposition. Coach Philippe Saint-Andre has been brutal off the field as well, dropping halfback Jonathan Pelissie, centres Maxime Mermoz and Mathieu Bastareaud and uncapped outside back Sofiane Guitoune on Wednesday, as he reduced his group from 30 to 26 players.
Looking at the game this weekend, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen further affirmed the esteem with which New Zealand holds their French counterparts, stating on the All Blacks website “France are one of our great rugby foes and there is a rich history of matches between our two countries, so we are certainly looking forward to this weekend…we know this weekend’s Test won’t be easy – the French will come at us with real physicality, passion and something new.”
The All Blacks side brings the three centurion caps of Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock and Kevin Mealamu. Cory Jane’s return, the steadying influence of Dan Carter, the frankly inspirational Ben Smith and the always exciting Israel Dagg will all be in the mix. The reserves bench is equally as strong, with one of my favourite player Steven Luatua ready to step into the breach. Which is not to say Liam Messam doesn’t deserve his spot on the field.
This All Blacks team has the benefits of experience and youth. The French team has similar, and they also have the added thrill of potentially being the team to halt the unstoppable juggernaut that is the Black Machine. It’s unrealistic to believe the All Blacks are undefeatable. France is a real threat, and the fact Hansen has fielded such a strong team it appears obvious he sees this.
In an added bonus, Saturday’s Test both teams will be contesting the David Gallaher Cup. This will have the All Blacks forgoing their traditional jersey in favour of a unique alternate white strip which will be embossed with a red poppy on the sleeve to mark Armistice Day (November 11). For the non Europeans, Armistice Day is the anniversary of the end of the hostilities of World War I. Thirteen All Blacks lost their lives in World War I, including 1905-06 Originals Captain, Sergeant Dave Gallaher, the trophy being named in honour of this fallen warrior.
Both teams will be playing for pride. The All Blacks and France have played each other 54 times, including the 1987 and 2011 Rugby World Cup finals. The All Blacks last played France in France in 2009 in Marseille, with the All Blacks winning 39-12, and this will be the first time since 2006 the All Blacks have faced the French in Paris. Neither team has underestimated the other, I look forward to what will be a brutal, physical and epic battle.
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