No excuses for the All Blacks in final test

LIAM NAPIER IN NEW PLYMOUTH
Last updated 05:01 22/06/2013
All Blacks prepare for France
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ Zoom
The All Blacks front row gets in some scrum practice in New Plymouth ahead of the last test with France.
Aaron Smith
JASON OXENHAM/Fairfax NZ Zoom
All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith looks to force a turnover from French hooker Dimitri Szarzewski.
Israel Dagg
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ Zoom
All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg breaks a tackle in the second test.

Related Links

All Blacks prepare for France Vito's chance to stake claim for No 6 jersey Read wants series whitewash in New Plymouth Ranger making most of premature swan song Testing times for ABs with plenty to prove

Relevant offers

All Blacks

Lydia Ko, Israel Dagg in three-hole cricket-golf challenge Tom Taylor signs with French Top 14 club Bayonne Serious injury concern for Chiefs' All Black lock Brodie Retallick after shoulder blow Dan Carter pivotal to All Black's World Cup chances, says former coach Graham Henry NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew forecasts 'modest profit' for 2014 France 'loaded' on drugs for infamous 1986 All Blacks 'Battle of Nantes' test Former All Black Piri Weepu to leave London Welsh after signing deal with French club Oyonnax New Zealand Rugby says mosquito-transmitted disease in Samoa won't threaten Apia test match Andy Ellis earned the yen in Japan but lost chance to return to the All Blacks fold Richie McCaw refutes links with offshore clubs, remains mute on retirement talk

Cast your mind back 12 months to the All Blacks' thrashing of Ireland in Hamilton.

A similar, if slightly less emphatic, statement than the 60-0 pasting could be brewing in New Plymouth tonight.

After three weeks together, the All Blacks' understanding of their game plan and each other is three times better than when they first assembled. Expect that to be reflected in their performance.

From Auckland to Christchurch, coach Steve Hansen's men dramatically improved. The trend should continue against the French, who appear to be out on their feet at the end of a 10-month season.

There are no excuses for the All Blacks, who will field one of their oldest backlines in test history, featuring a combined age of 200 years. Fullback Israel Dagg, 25, is the youngest, but not the least experienced.

While the Dave Gallaher trophy is safely locked away and there has not been the same edge to the All Blacks' trainings in miserable conditions, competition for places is a powerful motivator. And there is plenty within this squad.

This test carries great importance for halfback Piri Weepu and blindside flanker Victor Vito.

"The only outcome we are after is 3-0," captain Kieran Read said yesterday.

"It's been a challenging week with the weather and things, but we've got guys coming in who are really excited.

"That just adds a little spark to the rest of the group. We're in a good space."

Welcoming back Dan Carter, the world's best first five-eighth, to chase a series sweep is a luxury no other nation could contemplate.

His classy qualities were evident at training this week when he took the ball to the line and fooled his team-mates.

After two weeks out with a broken hand, Carter is one of many demanding excellence in his 95th test.

"It's very important. That's something we've talked about," the 31-year-old said.

"We want to get better each game. It's still early days in the season,;only our third test.

"We've had another week together, worked on a lot of combinations and know our game plan better. It's really important we sign off this series on a high."

For the French, being held scoreless last week was a massive physiological blow.

Les Bleus threw everything at the All Blacks' defiant defence and came away with nothing.

The tourists have since lost their best performer, impressive No 8 Louis Picamoles, and with only pride to play for must have one eye on the flight home.

Coach Philippe Saint-Andre will be craving early points, or this could turn ugly.

Ad Feedback

"We could be coming here at one-one," French captain Thierry Dusautoir said. "But we still come here and do our best to win.

"Maybe physically we are not as strong as we were three weeks ago."

Of course, nothing is a given with the French. If they get a sniff of an unlikely upset, plans for Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau and Matt Todd could be derailed.

Hansen, ideally, wants some breathing space before introducing his three rookies.

Boosting his three-match unbeaten captaincy record before passing the baton to Richie McCaw will also be on Read's agenda.

His uncle Bill, the groundsman at Yarrow Stadium, no doubt shared a quiet word at their family dinner about delivering the proud province a fitting result in their first taste of professional rugby for over eight months.

"He certainly wants me to do the business," Read said. "He doesn't want to be known as the ground that lost a test match."

If the All Blacks get comfortable, don't discount some experimentation. That could include Rene Ranger in the midfield and, possibly, Piutau on the wing.

Striking a balance between their running and kicking game will be top of the to-do list.

The French will surely be more awake at the back, which could spark some creativity from Carter and company.

If the patchy weather plays its part, over 23,000 fans could be in for a treat.

This is far from a dead rubber for the All Blacks.

- Fairfax Media

Special offers
Opinion poll

Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?

Dane Coles

Nathan Harris

Keven Mealamu

Wyatt Crockett

Charlie Faumuina

Ben Franks

Owen Franks

Joe Moody

Brodie Retallick

Luke Romano

Jeremy Thrush

Patrick Tuipulotu

Sam Whitelock

Sam Cane

Jerome Kaino

Richie McCaw

Liam Messam

Kieran Read

Vitor Vito

Vote Result

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content