All Blacks looking to regroup

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The Independent Online

Wayne Smith has no doubts about the nature of this evening's match at Stade de France and has prepared his New Zealand side for 80 minutes in the trenches against France, by taking them to some First World War battlefields on the France-Belgian border. The mood was grim when they left their camp in Lille for a trip to the Somme, after the A team were defeated by the French Barbarians at Stade Félix Bollaert in Lens on Tuesday, especially as the New Zealand forwards had looked so vulnerable in their tight play against a scratch French XV.

Wayne Smith has no doubts about the nature of this evening's match at Stade de France and has prepared his New Zealand side for 80 minutes in the trenches against France, by taking them to some First World War battlefields on the France-Belgian border. The mood was grim when they left their camp in Lille for a trip to the Somme, after the A team were defeated by the French Barbarians at Stade Félix Bollaert in Lens on Tuesday, especially as the New Zealand forwards had looked so vulnerable in their tight play against a scratch French XV.

The All Blacks are still reeling from their 43-31 World Cup semi-final defeat by France just over a year ago, when the myth of their invincibility was exposed in such ruthless fashion. Smith, the new coach who has succeeded John Hart, is under no illusions about the danger posed by France, who are seeking their fifth win in seven outings against those wearing the silver fern.

"We need to rebuild some of our prestige after that crushing Twickenham defeat," said Smith, who led Canterbury Crusaders to a Super 12 double before taking over for the recent Tri-Nations series in which New Zealand finished runners-up to Australia. "I think this will be a match of attrition. The creators can do their bit on another day; first we need to be very solid up front and defensively sound."

To reinforce his point, Smith has left Taine Randell on the bench after 38 successive appearances, and replaced the former captain with Reuben Thorne, while bulking up the midfield by moving the hard-tackling wing, Tana Umaga in to the centre where he partners Daryl Gibson, who is preferred to Pita Alatini. Whatever doubts exist about this relatively inexperienced All Black team, there will be abundant familiarity as no fewer than 10 are from Canterbury.

The France coach, Bernard Laporte, has made only one change from the side which last week lost 18-13 to the world champions, Australia, by dropping Olivier Brouzet and keeping faith with the Northampton lock's replacement against the Wallabies, David Auradou. "Olivier didn't play badly," said Laporte, "but when Auradou came on it tightened up our line-out and he keeps his place in the team."

There is no place for Franck Tournaire, who is dropped, or Phillippe Bernat-Salles who reverts to the bench, while Christophe Dominici has only recently been released from a Paris clinic after receiving treatment for depression. So only seven survive of the team who destroyed New Zealand so sublimely last October.

"Matches with New Zealand are always so intense," saidLaporte yesterday, "and this one will be more so, because they want to batter the life out of us. It is up to us to meet the physical challenge before we can begin to think of freerunning rugby."

FRANCE: X Garbajosa; T Lombard, R Dourthe, F Comba, D Bory; C Lamaison, F Galthié; S Marconnet, F Landreau, C Califano, C Moni, D Auradou, F Pelous (capt), O Magne, C Juillet. Replacements: O Azam, P De Villiers, O Brouzet, S Betsen, P Carbonneau, Y Delaigue, P Bernat-Salles.

NEW ZEALAND: C Cullen; D Howlett, T Umaga, D Gibson, J Lomu; A Mehrtens, J Marshall; G Feek, A Oliver, G Somerville, R Thorne, T Blackadder (capt), N Maxwell, S Robertson, R Cribb. Replacements: C Spencer, B Reihana, B Kelleher, G Slater, M Hammett, T Randell, T Flavell.

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