New Zealand vs France | Saturday 15 June | AMI Stadium | 09:35
The All Blacks extended their unbeaten run at Eden Park to thirty-one matches last Saturday when they claimed victory over the French in the first of the three-match series between the sides. It was no easy victory for the Kiwis as Les Bleus looked nothing like the docile outfit that finished bottom of the Six Nations this year, but instead gave a performance that ensured that this series is far from being decided after just one game. In fact, had it not been for the unfortunate handling by French eighthman Louis Picamoles in front of an open Kiwi try line about an hour in, it could very well have been France going into this encounter 1-0 up.
The All Blacks seemed to battle to get things started, perhaps unsure of themselves without the leadership of both the irreplaceable Richie McCaw and intuitive Dan Carter. Aaron Cruden battled to settle in at flyhalf, missing several attempts at the posts and an alarming four tackles, which for an All Black flyhalf is surely akin to treason. However, the awe-inspiring performances of both Ben Smith and Ma’a Nonu could quite easily have made up for any number of players having a bad day. If Cruden manages to ease his nerves this week, with a backline of that calibre behind him, France could be in some real danger.
To Win (80mins)
New Zealand 1/12
New Zealand (-15.5) 9/10
France (+15.5) 9/10
All Black Coach Steve Hansen has stuck with the starting XV that secured the victory at Eden Park last week, meaning Israel Dagg retains his spot at fullback despite speculation that Rene Ranger, after an impressive performance off the bench, would move onto the wing with Ben Smith shifting to fifteen. A wealth of experience comes onto the bench, with Keven Mealamu, Ben Afeaki and Tawera Kerr-Barlow all making way for Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and Piri Weepu, who have an impressive 239 caps between them.
France, coming off a midweek game against the Blues, will be in no rush to finalise their match-day 23. An impressive performance by Jean Marc Doussain with the boot secured 18 points for the visitors, as well as some aggressive running on the wing by Seru Nakaitaci which resulted in two tries for the youngster. Both helped secure the impressive 15-38 victory over the Blues, and it could help find them a place in the starting test side for this Saturday.
VERDICT : France (+15.5) 9/10
The French have had a less than enjoyable season so far, but a victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand would go a long way in helping them forget the rest. After their passionate performance last week, they showed that could very well pull that off. Not this week though, I predict the All Blacks by 12. Take France on the ‘cap.
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.