New Zealand and France will bring down the curtain on what has been an eventful three-Test series when they do battle in Dunedin on Saturday.
The All Blacks have already clinched the series after victories in Auckland and Wellington and have made several changes to their squad for this fixture although they will, once again, start as favourites.
Over the years, France have gained a reputation as the one side who are capable of testing the All Blacks to the limit and although they did that once again in Wellington last weekend, they head into this match after losing 13 consecutive matches to the world champions.
The visitors are eager to end that winless run and will look to build on their second-half performance in Wellington when, despite playing with 14 men – after Benjamin Fall was red carded early in the first-half – they fought back and actually finished stronger than their hosts, winning the half 7-5 despite losing the match 26-13.
That scoreline was a disappointing one for the world champions after their 52-11 victory in the first Test in Auckland, and All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster expects an improved showing from his charges this weekend.
“We weren’t very satisfied with the result that we got and we had to look hard at ourselves about how we dealt with that game too,” he said.
“As a team we’ve had a good look at it.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t back up one good scoreline with a quality performance which is what we were looking at. So clearly we didn’t get a few things right.”
But the response has been positive, as expected of the All Blacks, and it is a case of backing that up with a better performance on Saturday.
Despite having the series in the bag, the world champions will not be thinking in terms of a dead rubber. Indeed Foster is aware that France will also be highly motivated to finish their tour on a high.
“We’re expecting a big push from them and this is an All Blacks-France Test and we’ve just got to treat it like that,” he added.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: With first-choice fly-half Beauden Barrett ruled out due to concussion sustained in last week’s clash in Wellington, Damian McKenzie gets a rare start in the number 10 jersey for the world champions. The 23-year-old has shown – when coming off the bench in the two previous Tests – that he belongs at this level and will be determined to make the most of this opportunity as the side’s chief playmaker and cement his place as the back-up fly-half.
For France: With Mathieu Bastareaud out of the matchday squad, head coach Jacques Brunel has handed the captaincy reins to scrum-half Morgan Parra. This is a shrewd move as the 29-year-old is an experienced campaigner with plenty of experience which will prove vital in the leadership position. As the side’s first-choice goal-kicker Parra will also be expected to keep the scoreboard ticking for France while his partnership with fly-half Anthony Belleau will have to be superb if les Bleus want to return to winning ways against their hosts.
Head-to-head: In Sonny Bill Williams and Wesley Fofana, both sides will have new inside centres for this encounter. Both players have overcome knee injuries which kept them on the sidelines earlier in the series and will be champing at the bit in a bid to make an impact. The duo’s contrasting styles gives this duel an extra dimension with Williams’ brilliant offloading game set to create opportunities on attack for his team-mates while the fleet-footed Fofana is dangerous with ball in hand and has the ability to unlock the tightest defences with a moment of brilliance.
2018: New Zealand won 26-13 in Wellington 2018: New Zealand won 52-11 in Auckland 2017: New Zealand won 38-18 in Paris 2016: New Zealand won 24-19 in Paris 2015: New Zealand won 62-13 (World Cup quarter-final) in Cardiff 2013: New Zealand won 26-19 in Paris 2013: New Zealand won 24-9 in New Plymouth 2013: New Zealand won 30-0 in Christchurch
Prediction: France will be highly motivated after last week’s impressive effort and will run the All Blacks close, but the home side will be triumphant again. New Zealand to win by 10 points.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock (c), 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Jordie Barrett
France: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra (c), 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Kelian Galletier, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelissie, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Felix Lambey, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Medard
Date: Saturday, June 23 Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin Kick-off: 19:35 (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT) Referee: John Lacey (Ireland) Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia) Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)
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