France v New Zealand - Teams and Prediction
WORLD CUP REHEARSAL: When the draw for the 2023 Rugby World Cup was made last December on the swanky side of Paris’ former stock exchange one fixture stood out, France against New Zealand.
Les Bleus coach Fabien Galthie and the financially motivated, TV-figures-chasing organisers swiftly made the move to hold the game as the tournament’s curtain-raiser.
This Saturday, the highly-anticipated dress rehearsal for the 2023 opener will be held at the Stade de France with both sides in very different situations.
Last weekend, the All Blacks were starved of possession, denied momentum and humbled by a determined Ireland in Dublin.
“This week has been interesting because when the All Blacks lose, it’s not the greatest environment to be in for the first couple of days. Everyone’s pretty down and grumpy about it,” the visitors forward coach John Plumtree said on Tuesday.
“By the time we get to Thursday and Friday, we’ll be really looking forward to it. The edge gets sharper by the time Saturday comes around,” he added.
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If the three-time World Cup winners have taken a while to dissect and digest the events at Lansdowne Road, Galthie’s focus turned to the meeting in the French capital minutes after beating Georgia last Sunday.
“When we’re preparing to play the best team in the world in six days, is the word ‘worried’ the right word, I’m not sure,” former France captain Galthie said in the post-match press conference.
“We have to be conscious of what’s ahead on Saturday at the Stade de France. We have to put ourselves in a position for what we’ll face. We have to look to match them everywhere and all the time,” he added after the less than convincing win.
Galthie’s boldest selection decision to host the All Blacks has come at flyhalf with Toulouse’s Romain Ntamack moved from centre to the No. 10 shirt and Matthieu Jalibert named on the bench.
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All but three of Ntamack’s 17 Test starts have come at stand-off and he returns to partner club teammate and Les Bleus skipper Antoine Dupont, who faces fellow highly-rated scrumhalf Aaron Smith.
“I’ve always said it, and I’ve never hidden it, that my position was outside-half,” Ntamack told AFP this week.
“After that, if I’m moved to centre for strategic reasons, I’ll play there with pleasure,” he added.
Ntamack’s father, Emile, beat the All Blacks on four occasions during a glittering career but his 22-year-old son has yet to face the senior side’s Haka.
“We’ll call each other in the week but he won’t give me a debrief on how to beat the All Blacks,” the youngster said.
“I think he’ll tell me to live my experience, my match, and enjoy it as much as possible,” he added.
The All Blacks last lost in Paris in 1973 but have been knocked out at a World Cup twice by Les Bleus.
Despite the looming shadow of the showpiece meeting in less than 20 months’ time head coach Ian Foster drew comparisons with the 2019 World Cup.
“Clearly it’s a big game when we play them in round one but we went there three years ago when we played South Africa in the opening game. We won that game and they went on to win it,” Foster said.
“What is significant is that it is a chance for us to go against a confident French team and to see where we sit,” he added.
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Players to watch:
For France: There will be loads of intriguing battles around the park. And eyes will definitely be on Romain Ntamack, who takes over the No.10 jersey. He forms the halfback partnership with club teammate and inform Antoine Dupont. Jonathan Danty will start in the midfield alongside long-time Stade Français centre partner Gaël Fickou.
For New Zealand: Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga form an all-new halfback pairing. The combination is possibly the best in the world. Quinn Tupaea has another chance to prove himself as he comes in at inside centre and George Bridge onto the wing. In the pack, Sam Cane is back although Sam Whitelock keeps the captaincy, while Akira Ioane also comes into the back row. Dane Coles replaces Codie Taylor at hooker as New Zealand look to end 2021 on a high.
Head to head:
France v New Zealand
Last 10 encounters
@rugby365com: New Zealand by 10 points.
France: 15 Melvyn Jaminet, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Gabin Villiere; 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain); 8 Gregory Alldrit, 7 Anthony Jelonch, 6 Francois Cros; 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Cameron Woki; 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Gaetan Barlot, 17 Jean-Baptise Gros, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Thibaud Flament, 21 Dylan Cretin, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Matthieu Jalibert
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Samison Taukei’aho, 17 George Bower, 18 Osa Tuungafasi, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Brad Webber, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 David Havili.
Date: Saturday, November 20
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT; 09.00 Sunday, November 21 NZ time)
Expected weather: Slightly cloudy with a gentle breeze and high of 10°C and a low of 7°C.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)
@rugby365com & AFP