Test preview: All Blacks to dominate France in Wellington after Eden Park mauling

Yes, yes, I know I picked the All Blacks by just three points before the first Test.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. That's what happens when you get conservative and over think matters such as bumpy preparation and "first Test of the year" history.

But then who could have foreseen that the sin-binning of French lock Paul Gabrillagues would not only prise open the floodgates but smash them down like Ngani Laumape with defenders close to the line?

Some pundits spouted nonsense that it ruined the contest from that point at 51 minutes. Not really. The French were tiring, kicking injudiciously and about to be opened up in palpable fashion. The sin-binning merely accelerated the process.

The funny thing is, both sides should improve tomorrow night in the capital, a city where the French have never tasted success against the All Blacks. The Gallaher Cup should be retained by the All Blacks.

Presuming there are no cyclonic conditions a la 1961, the All Blacks, unchanged for the first time in three years, should be sharper on attack for more of the clash, while their pack will certainly be better.

That is a sobering thought for Jacques Brunel that men such as Sam Cane, Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock will be on task from the first whistle, while it is highly unlikely that Anton Lienert-Brown will again drop two balls, as he did at Eden Park.

We may get to see more of the tweaked All Blacks' attacking strategy, in which the Barrett brothers Beauden and Jordie operate in dangerous and often deadly tandem.

Brunel has, unsurprisingly, made several changes to his squad, but they must endeavour to get more ball in space to wing Teddy Thomas. It is all very well to be defence-focused against the All Blacks - that has worked for them, famously, in the past, such as RWC 2007 - but we await the joie de vivre that France brought to its glorious wins at Eden Park in 1979 and '94.

Gael Fickou, now installed in the No 11 jersey, may bring some of that flair, but it is a shame Wesley Fofana is not yet ready. Fullback Benjamin Fall may be a more robust defender than Maxime Medard but can he ring alarm bells in the All Blacks' defence?

The French were in self-flagellation mode at their Eden Park loose forward display, so it is over to Kevin Gourdon, who has shifted to the base of the scrum, Kelian Galletier and Mathieu Babillot to show us how to combat messrs L Whitelock, Cane and Squire.

There was loose talk of France being inspired by their Under 20s' upset of New Zealand at the Junior World Championship. Good luck with that. Les Bleuets crushed the young New Zealanders in the pack midweek.

That will not happen in Wellington.

France's Remy Grosso (C runs into All Blacks Ofa Tu'ungafasi (L) and Sam Cane (R during the Steinlager Series rugby match between the All Blacks and France at the Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday the 9th of June 2018. Copyright Photo by Marty Melville / www.Photosport.nz
France's Remy Grosso was injured in a tackle involving All Blacks Ofa Tu'ungafasi (L) and Sam Cane. Source: Photosport


Dane Coles prepares for long-awaited return to action - ‘He'll bring some fire and niggle off the bench’

It's been almost a year since he was last seen on the rugby field, but Dane Coles is finally set to make his long-awaited return from injury.

The 56-time capped All Black hooker hasn't played since last November, but will come off the bench in Wellington's crucial Mitre 10 Cup clash against Taranaki tomorrow night.

The plan is for him to have 20 minutes off the bench in the final round robin game of the season.

It's been close to a year since Coles injured his knee against France.

"Having played with him for a few years, it's really encouraging and I'm really pumped to have him back in the team," said fellow front row forward Jeff Toomaga-Allen.

"And I know he'll bring some fire and niggle off the bench." 

The All Blacks hooker will turn out for Wellington tomorrow, having not played since last November. Source: 1 NEWS



Watch: All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala shows off scars from broken arm as he prepares for rugby return

After nearly seven months on the sidelines, All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala is firming for his return to action, named on the bench for Counties' Mitre 10 Cup season finale against Canterbury on Saturday.

Having cemented his spot in the All Blacks' front row towards the end of 2017, Laulala's season was derailed just two weeks into his 2018 campaign, suffering a broken arm playing for the Chiefs. 

However, after a long road to recovery, Laulala is just one of three All Blacks front rowers to make their returns this weekend, with the Counties prop having seen the silver lining in his time away from rugby.

"It feels like an eternity," he began.

"I'm just really grateful for the time I got with my family - especially my wife. We're expecting our first child, (I'm) just trying to stay on the positive side of it all."

This isn't Laulala's first brush with serious injury, snapping three ligaments in 2015, ruled out for a year afterwards and fearing he'd never play again.

The burly front rower has used his experience though, helping him to come back stronger for a second time.

"I've been through some pretty intense trainings lately."

"This is my first full week with the boys. I'm going for whatever minutes I get, even if I get five minutes, I'll just be grateful to get back on the field, and just get an opportunity again."

Laulala will make his Counties debut, should he come off the bench.

After injury at the start of Super Rugby, Laulala will play for Counties this week. Source: 1 NEWS



Beauden Barrett 'still the number one' first-five over Richie Mo'unga, says Dan Carter

All Blacks great Dan Carter has thrown his support firmly behind Beauden Barrett as the first-choice in the number 10 jersey heading into next year's World Cup, following Richie Mo'unga's heroics against South Africa last weekend.

Coming off the bench in the second half in Pretoria, Mo'unga proved to be the All Blacks' saviour, slotting a conversion after the final whistle to steal the win after his side had been 30-13 down to the resurgent Springboks.

With Barrett having moved to fullback to accommodate Mo'unga's inclusion, debate has begun to arise as to whether or not the twice reigning World Player of the Year stay in the number 15 jersey, allowing for both stars to play at the same time though.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB this morning though, Carter said that the All Blacks need to persist with Barrett as the creative linchpin of the side.

Mo'unga is set to start in the No.10 jersey against Argentina in Nelson. Source: 1 NEWS

"He's still the number one 10 but to have the competition with Richie there, and when the time is right in certain games for Beaudie to go to the back and Richie come on and add another string to the backline," he said.

"It's the kind of depth and competition you want in a squad.

"For me Beaudie is still the leader in that All Blacks side and what he's achieved in the last three or four years has been incredible."

Carter also praised Mo'unga's emergence as a genuine world class player, having steered the Crusaders to back to back Super Rugby titles.

"I'm extremely proud of Richie and the way he's progressed over the last couple of years. I worked with him down at the Crusaders and he's got such a clear head. He doesn't let pressure get to him as we saw in the weekend.

"The fact he's putting Beaudie under a lot of pressure is great."

Barrett unselfishly let young Mo'unga take the game winning kick against South Africa. Source: 1 NEWS


Wayne Barnes to referee All Blacks v Ireland, Jerome Garces takes charge of clash with England

All Blacks may not be happy with the refereeing appointments for this year's end of year northern hemisphere tour, with Jerome Garces and Wayne Barnes to officiate New Zealand's clashes against Europe's best.

Barnes, 39, has earned the ire of All Blacks fans in the past, famously missing a forward pass against France that led to New Zealand's elimination from the 2007 World Cup in Cardiff.

He will take charge of the All Blacks' clash against world number two Ireland in Dublin on November 18 NZT.

Meanwhile, French referee Garces, 44, who showed Sonny Bill Williams a straight red card in last year's second Test against the British and Irish Lions, will officiate the much anticipated Test between the All Blacks and England at Twickenham on November 11.

The All Blacks' end-of-year tour begins on November 3 against Japan in Tokyo.

Referee Wayne Barnes.
2nd Bledisloe Cup Test of the 2018 Investec Rugby Championship.
New Zealand All Blacks v Australia (Wallabies) at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand on 25 August 2018.
Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz
Rugby referee Wayne Barnes. Source: Photosport