All Blacks unchanged; French wield the axe
WELLINGTON: New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has named an unchanged side for the second Test against France in Wellington on Saturday as he sought to cement combinations and continue to test his players’ abilities to step up to international level.
The All Blacks won the first Test 52-11 last week in Auckland. Hansen’s starting side wore down France’s resistance and exploited a dubious yellow card penalty before the replacements ran riot in the final 20 minutes.
“As we have a big focus right now on developing our game and working on our skill sets, connections and combinations, it isn’t beneficial to be making wholesale changes, if any at all, to the playing 23,” Hansen said.
“While we were really happy with the way we finished last weekend’s Test, we’re fully aware that we still have a lot of work to do.”
While the All Blacks ran away with the game in the final 20 minutes, Hansen was well aware that it took time for his team to get into second gear and he is expecting them to play better from the first whistle at Wellington Regional Stadium.
“The French would’ve taken a lot of confidence out of their first 50 minutes on the weekend, so it will require us to raise our game to an even higher level,” Hansen said.
“We’ll be looking to play our own high-energy game with real intent. When it comes to our performance, we know there are high expectations from our fans.”
Meanwhile, France coach Jacques Brunel has made five changes to his starting side.
Loose forwards Fabien Sanconnie and Judicael Cancoriet, who started in the 52-11 firstTest loss, have been dropped from the 23-man match-day squad. Mathieu Babillot and Kelian Galletier, who were not considered for the first Test after they played in the Top-14 final and arrived late in New Zealand, have been named to replace the pair on the side of the French scrum.
Full-back Maxime Medard has survived being trampled on by Ngani Laumape in the Eden Park match, but has been shunted to the bench with Montpellier winger Ben Fall, also a late arrival, taking his place in the No 15 jersey.
Gael Fickou, who is ordinarily a centre for club Toulouse, has been named on the left wing for the injured Remy Grosso, who suffered facial fractures and was ruled out of the series after a double tackle by Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi last week.
Bernard Le Roux has been promoted off the bench to replace fellow lock Paul Gabrillagues, who was given a yellow card in the first Test that blew the game open.
Until Gabrillagues’s sin-binning for a high tackle on Ryan Crotty, the match had been locked at 11-11 before the home side exploited the advantage to open up a 30-11 lead.
Experienced tighthead prop Rabah Slimani, who was demolished by debutant Karl Tu’inukuafe, has dropped out of the match-day squad altogether along with replacement hooker Adrien Pelissie.
Racing 92 prop Cedate Gomes Sa and La Rochelle hooker Pierre Bougarit have taken their places on the bench.
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (captain), 3 Owen Franks, 2-Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Ngani Laumape
15 Ben Fall, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (captain), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Kelian Galletier, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso
16 Pierre Bougarit, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19-Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Medard.