Bar­rett wary of French flair

Taranaki Daily News - - Sport - MARC HIN­TON IN PARIS

Trust Beau­den Bar­rett to sift the pos­i­tiv­ity out of the most pes­simistic view of French rugby.

The bril­liant All Blacks No 10, per­haps still search­ing for a sig­na­ture per­for­mance in 2017, was guest of honour at what might have been the French rugby team’s wake in Paris this week. Lo­cal rugby hacks pep­pered him with ques­tions on the youth and in­ex­pe­ri­ence of his op­po­nents at Stade de France to­mor­row, and you half­ex­pected them to ask if he felt sorry for the prover­bial lambs to the slaugh­ter.

Bar­rett, of course, was hav­ing none of the neg­a­tiv­ity. Where the scrib­blers saw a team greener than Ker­mit and with all the prospects of a turkey at Christ­mas, the best No 10 on the planet had an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent view­point.

Bar­rett and his All Blacks halves part­ner Aaron Smith have

127 caps be­tween them. Op­po­site them, 20-year-old Toulouse half­back An­toine Dupont and 21-yearold Toulon fly­half An­thony Bel­leau have three (all held by Dupont, off the bench).

"A French side when they have no ex­pec­ta­tions on them tends to turn up and play well." Steve Hansen

‘‘They’re ex­cit­ing play­ers,’’ de­clared Bar­rett, eyes aglow. ‘‘We’re aware of their strengths, and also their weak­nesses. It’s good for them to in­tro­duce new play­ers to the game and give them op­por­tu­ni­ties at this level.’’

Asked his ad­vice for the 1.77m,

88kg Bel­leau, Bar­rett smiled. ‘‘He must be do­ing things pretty well if he’s get­ting his op­por­tu­nity. It’s up to you to find your own way. You can only learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence and there’s noth­ing bet­ter than start­ing for your na­tional side and be­ing thrown onto the big stage.’’

On paper the French, who have lost 10 straight and 17 of their last

19 against the All Blacks, don’t stand a chance. They have just four sur­vivors (for­wards Guil­hem Guirado, Se´bastien Va­haamahina, Kevin Gour­don and Louis Pi­camoles) from last year’s clash, a quar­tet of debu­tants, five backs with five tests or less ex­pe­ri­ence and a halves pair­ing with an av­er­age age of 20.5.

But Bar­rett re­mem­bers last year’s 24-19 strug­gle – ‘‘It was very phys­i­cal. The French like to come out with al­most that bully men­tal­ity’’ – and re­minds us they’re the best of­fload­ing team in in­ter­na­tional rugby, and in the top three for pos­ses­sion.

‘‘Our de­fence has to get on top of that early, and not al­low them to get that tempo and build those phases they like.’’

The All Blacks are com­ing off their slop­pi­est per­for­mance of the

year. You get the feeling they’re not about to re­peat that mis­take for the first test of a tour they’re view­ing as a launch­ing pad.

And coach Steve Hansen re­minded us that de­ple­tion was a

shared trait.

‘‘Both teams are try­ing to find their feet with­out ex­pe­ri­enced guys. A French side when they have no ex­pec­ta­tions on them tends to turn up and play well, and play with ex­cite­ment and en­thu­si­asm.’’

Props Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala will be keen to mea­sure them­selves against a gnarly French front row, and lock Luke

Ro­mano, flanker Vaea Fi­fita, wing Waisake Na­holo and full­back Damian McKen­zie are all still prov­ing them­selves as fully fledged starters.

Throw in the Bris­bane ba­nana

skin and the pres­sure cre­ated by Hansen’s care­fully struc­tured Novem­ber peak plan, and you have a night when the All Blacks, as well as Les Bleus, have a lot to play for.

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