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End of the Year Tour: France v New Zealand Preview
Our rugby scribe previews this Saturday’s game between France and New Zealand being played at the Stade de France.
The All Blacks will look to cap off their impressive 2016 campaign with a victory over Guy Noves’ France. The New Zealander’s come into this one off the back of a hard-fought victory over Ireland in which they picked up a few casualties. France also suffered defeat last week going down by a solitary point to Australia in an absolute nail-biter.
So will the All Blacks cap off 2016 in style or will France roll back the years and pull off another shock victory over the All Blacks ala the 2007 World Cup?
France v New Zealand | Saturday 26 November | Stade de France | 22:00
To Win (80 Mins)
France 8/1 | Draw 33/1 | New Zealand 1/16
France (+19.5) 9/10 | New Zealand(-19.5) 9/10
Guy Noves’ first year in charge of Le Bleu has been a rather decent one. His side have given a decent account of themselves over the last month running Samoa ragged and then putting in a spirited display against the Wallabies last Saturday.
Despite the improvements made under Noves, there are still a few symptomatic issues that he needs to remedy in order for this French team to become a real force. A few of these issues were evident in last week’s defeat to the Australians.
Having taken an 8-0 lead early on in the first half, the French demonstrated their lack of discipline conceding a penalty and then a penalty try, which saw them hand the advantage to the Australians. While Le Bleu were a touch more disciplined during the second stanza, they still made a few rudimentary errors that ultimately cost them the game.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the French, however, as they did run in some scintillating tries – the pick of bunch was their opener which was run in from over 80 meters out!
The French weren’t afraid to give the ball width last weekend and they will be eager to do the same again this week. Which means we could be in for a high-scoring cracker at the Stade de France.
While Noves is yet to announce his team at the time of writing, I do suspect that we will see some changes. The first alteration the French coach may well make is at scrumhalf where the struggling Maxine Machenaud could make way for Bordeaux youngster Baptiste Serin. The latter has looked good when making late cameos off the bench. He is a ready-made replacement for Machenaud as he is also able to take over the goal-kicking duties.
Noves could actually switch up his halfback pairing completely as last week’s starting fly-half, Jean-Marc Doussain, looked a bit off the pace. And with Camile Lopez – who looked decent when coming on off the bench last Saturday despite missing a late drop goal – in the form of his life, Noves could well opt to shake things up.
As I alluded to in the introduction, the All Blacks picked up a few injuries and citings in their victory over the Irish last Saturday. The game itself was filled with niggle with both sets of players doing their utmost to assert physical dominance over their opposite numbers. The All Blacks – by crook according to every Irishman on the planet – managed to win the battle of attrition and ran out 21-9 victors.
The win did come at a cost however with both Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa both being cited for foul play. The duo attended separate hearings at the IRB’s headquarters in London this past Tuesday with Kane being cleared of any misdoing and Fekitoa receiving a one-match ban for his high shot on Robbie Henshaw. Ironically enough, Cane will miss this weekend’s game anyway as he's carrying a shoulder injury.
While Ardie Savea was always a shoe in for Kane’s vacant spot on the side of the scrum, who Hansen uses to fill the void in the centres left by Fekitoa was threatening to become a bit of a quagmire. With George Moala having returned to New Zealand with a season-ending elbow injury, the only orthodox alternative Hansen was left with were Chiefs man Seta Tamanivalu and incumbent Ryan Crotty. The former has managed to overcome a hamstring injury which has made Hansen’s life a lot easier.
Crotty isn’t the only change to the All Blacks starting backline with Israel Dagg shifting to fullback in place of the injured Ben Smith. The vacant slot on the right wing will be taken by Waisake Naholo, while TJ Perenara replaces Aaron Smith at scum-half.
Verdict: New Zealand (-19.5) 9/10
The 9/10 handicap has opened up at the -19.5 mark. You could put another 10 points on that and I’d still happily back New Zealand to clear it.