France are wary of the All Blacks as the teams prepare to clash in Dunedin, New Zealand, today for the first time since the Six Nations side upset New Zealand at the 2007 World Cup.
The home team, who go into the match without their usual tag of favorites, suffered a further blow on Friday when it was confirmed Rudi Wulf had fractured a shoulder, forcing reserve fullback Cory Jane onto the wing.
The latest setback adds to the makeshift air about the All Blacks, with only three specialists and four utilities in the backs. The three loose forwards share just seven run-on starts between them and there is a debutant lock.
But the French said the visitors faced a tricky challenge despite the All Blacks’ problems.
“We have a number of players missing as well,” said coach Marc Lievremont, who is without players from Perpignan and Clermont, who played in last week’s Top 14 final.
Lievremont, part of the French side that upset the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup semi-final, said history showed “teams from the northern hemisphere always struggle down here.”
His captain Thierry Dusautoir, a survivor from the French side that beat the fancied All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals in Wales, said New Zealand would still put out a strong side.
They are “always the ultimate challenge because it’s a mythical team. To beat the All Blacks is always the pinnacle of the career of any player, especially in New Zealand as very few French teams have done that,” Dusautoir said.
With only three All Blacks and five French players remaining from the run-on sides in the last World Cup encounter, All Blacks coach Graham Henry has been keen to avoid talk of revenge.
“The nation expects us to win, we try hard to do that. I think that expectation is great for the team. I think it brings the best out of us,” Henry said.
The All Blacks expect an explosive opening exchange as the French put pressure on the raw team and say the course of the game will hinge on how they handle that.
“If we can better that then we will go a way to putting ourselves on the front foot,” said Adam Thomson, who has the number seven jersey in place of the injured Richie McCaw.
“We can’t be passive at all,” Thomson said. “We have to get in there and knock them over and have them shaking their heads a bit thinking, ‘What have we come up against?’”
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