Saturday, June 13, 2009

Test Match Rugby: Frogs out to eat a Kiwi

Am I allowed to say that? Ah well.

France v New Zealand in Dunedin (1st test of 2)

Venue: Carisbrook

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)

Much has been written about this game. I have read with interest as many media outlets have claimed this to be the weakest All Black side ever to assemble and that this is France's chance to avenge all the losses they have endured in the years they've been touring down under since the 90's.

Well, first I don't believe their is such a beast as a weak All Black side. Some are just stronger than others. At times the All Blacks have let their guard down and allowed the opposite to slip in as it were (most notably at Rugby World Cup semi-finals) but never were they a weak side.

So now down to business. Just how much less stronger is this All Black side and just how much stronger is this weak French side from the weak French side that didn't fare well at the 6 Nations Championship.

The first advantage New Zealand has is the venue. The Australians dented the pride of Dunedin's a little when they won there last year but it is still a formidible venue for overseas teams to play at. First there is the weather (usually cold to freezing, dark and wet). Then there is the crowd (partizan, vocal and unyealding).

Next advantage, and ably put by the French team manager when asked about this depleted All Black side. "I respect the All Blacks too much to think new players will be fragile. A player with the black jersey on the back is like a big monster. We're going to see 15 big monsters," said Ntamack. And not to mention some of the reserve monsters waiting on the bench.

It will be a new-look All Black side. They might not win by as many points as when they have all they available players, but then France has their problems also.

This French side is dripping with experience and that has been a fortunate situation. Luckily Toulouse was not involved in the French Top 14 final otherwise France would have been in a very weakened position. Only a few players were involved in the final and they are not available until the second test. But France has also had its injury worries.

Regular captain Lionel Nallet, loose forward Imanol Harinordoquy, scrum-half Morgan Parra, fly half David Skrela, flanker Julien Bonnaire and wing Aurelien Rougerie have all been left behind in France nursing injuries. They are all first choice selections and France is a weaker side as a result. France's main advantage is their experience in this side and their unpredictability. You just never know when a French side fires up. And when they do.......

In summary, if France has an opportunity to win a test again in New Zealand I guess Saturday is their best opportunity for some time. But I'm betting on New Zealand to take this test even by a slim margin. Look out for the outcry back in France if their team loses. The roar will be deafening!

New Zealand has extra motivation. It was France who pushed them out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup with that 20-18 win in Cardiff. Be zee aware les monsters seeking revenge!

Last Five Encounters
06.10.2007 France 20-18 in Cardiff (World Cup Semi-final)
04.06.2007 New Zealand 61-10 in Wellington
02.06.2007 New Zealand in Auckland 42-11
18.11.2006 New Zealand 23-11 in Paris
11.11.2006 New Zealand 47-3 in Lyon

GWC Rugby Rankings: World Table-New Zealand 1st, France 5th

Prediction: New Zealand by 7 points.


15 Maxime Medard (Toulouse) Age 21, 8 tests
14 Cedric Heymans (Toulouse) 30, 48
13 Mathieu Bastareaud (Stade Français) 20, 3
12 Damien Traille (Biarritz) 29, 68
11 Vincent Clerc (Toulouse) 27, 32
10 Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier) 21, 10
9 Julien Dupuy (Leicester, England) 25, New Cap
8 Louis Picamoles (Montpellier) 22, 12
7 Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier) 22, 14
6 Thierry Dusautoir, Capt. (Toulouse) 27, 22
5 Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse) 25, 7
4 Pascal Pape (Stade Français) 28, 20
3 Sylvain Marconnet (Stade Français) 32, 74
2 William Servat (Toulouse) 30, 21
1 Fabien Barcella (Biarritz) 24, 6
16 Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Français) 25, 35
17 Nicolas Mas (Perpignan) 28, 23
18 Sebastien Chabal (Sale) 30, 46
19 Julien Puricelli (Bayonne) ? , New Cap
20 Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz) 28, 37
21 Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse) 30, 60
22 Alexis Palisson (Brive) 21, 5
Head Coach: Marc Lièvremont

New Zealand
15 Mils Muliaina, Capt. (Waikato) Age 28, 68 tests
14 Joe Rokocoko (Auckland) 26, 52
13 Isaia Toeava (Auckland) 23, 20
12 Ma'a Nonu (Wellington) 27, 32
11 Corey Jane (Wellington) 26, 1
10 Stephen Donald (Waikato) 25, 8
9 Jimmy Cowan (Southland) 27, 21
8 Liam Messam (Waikato) 25, 1
7 Adam Thomson (Otago) 27, 8
6 Kieran Read (Canterbury) 24, 3
5 Isaac Ross (Canterbury) 24, New Cap
4 Brad Thorn (Canterbury) 34, 23
3 Neemia Tialata (Wellington) 26, 31
2 Andrew Hore (Taranaki) 30. 36
1 Tony Woodcock (North Harbour) 28, 48
16 Keven Mealamu (Auckland) 30, 43
17 John Afoa (Auckland) 25, 13
18 Bryn Evans (Hawkes Bay) 24, New Cap
19 Tanerau Latimer (Bay of Plenty) 23, New Cap
20 Piri Weepu (Wellington) 25, 28
21 Luke McAlister (North Harbour) 25, 22
22 Lelia Masaga(Counties Manukau) 22, New Cap
Head Coach: Graham Henry

Injured: Richie McCaw (the usual captain), Rodney So'oialo, Richard Kaku, Conrad Smith, Ali Williams, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Anthony Boric and Andy Ellis and Corey Flynn

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