All Blacks with a point to prove

France v New Zealand
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The Independent Online

reports from Paris

Faces have been long in the All Blacks camp this week, and the tension extreme as the New Zealanders attempted to pick themselves up from last Saturday's surprise defeat. The French press has been sent packing, all training has been in utmost secrecy and the formerly affable, smiling Laurie Mains has turned into the jumpy coach we saw at the recent World Cup.

Still the All Blacks are very much under pressure and the only thing equalling their stress levels appears to be the astonishingly relaxed attitude of the French team in camp at Clairefontaine. "We didn't expect to win the first one, so we are all pretty laid back about the second Test," their captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, said. In addition, yesterday the French manager, Andre Herrero, rescinded his decision to resign.

The All Blacks have now lost three matches in a row to France, something which has rarely happened against any team, and the prospect of losing four in a row has Sean Fitzpatrick and his men visibly on edge.

"That's certainly an extra motivation for us," he said. "But we are also aware that this is Laurie's last game as coach of the All Blacks and we would love to finish on a high. It is also the last game of our season and we are always judged on our last performance of the year."

Fitpatrick's challenge is not only to avoid a second humiliating defeat at the hands of a makeshift French side but also to prove that what the All Blacks achieved at the 1995 World Cup was not just an illusion, and that the brilliant attacking brand of rugby they played can be successful as well as entertaining.

It failed to happen in the World Cup final, it failed again in Toulouse last week; a further failure would almost certainly be the death-blow for the New Zealanders' bold new approach. Wherever they have gone in France the grounds have been bursting at the seams and today, for the first time ever, a touring side will fill the Parc des Princes to capacity.

Mains, however, remains adamant. "This is the end of an important four years of my life. Win or lose, the most important thing for me is to play with the same quality as we achieved early in the year."

The French line-up remains unchanged from that which won 22-15 in Toulouse, while the All Blacks have made several significant changes. At scrum-half Justin Marshall, of Canterbury, wins his first cap, coming in for Stu Forster, while Liam Barry, a third-generation All Black, also wins his first cap as open-side flanker.

Michael Jones, still a talented footballer, but who no longer has the speed of the past, retains his place but moves to the blind side of the scrum where he has played most of the season for Auckland. Jeff Wilson, who injured his shoulder in the first Test failed to complete training on Thursday and has been replaced by Glen Osborne at full-back.

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'Tamack (Toulouse), R Dourthe (Dax), T Castaignede (Toulouse), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); A Penaud (Brive), P Carbonneau (Toulouse); L Benezech (Racing Club), M de Rougemont (Toulon), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle (Montferrand), F Pelous (Dax), P Benetton, A Benazzi (Agen), A Carminati (Brive).

NEW ZEALAND: G Osborne; E Rush, F Bunce, W Little (all North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); S Culhane (Southland), J Marshall (Canterbury); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke (all Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), M Jones, Z Brooke (Auckland), L Barry (North Harbour).

Referee: P Marshall (Australia).