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Test Preview: Underdone All Blacks will do it tough against France in first Test of 2018


There is no evidence to suggest the All Blacks will be ambushed by the French on Eden Park, as they were, famously, in 1979 and 1994.

But, equally, we do not really know how the All Blacks will fare after an injury-hit build-up that prompted Sir John Kirwan to describe the situation as one of their "worst" preparations for an opening Test match.

Jokes aside, Ngani Laumape pays credit to the humbleness of the Barrett brothers. Source: Breakfast

In 1984 and 1994, both times in Christchurch, the All Blacks turned out mediocre displays in their season openers, costing them dearly on the latter occasion, and it would certainly have cost them in ’84 had the mercurial Jean-Patrick Lescarboura had his dropkicking radar working.

On paper, the All Blacks look formidable, with a Crusaders tight five, but the props have had little recent rugby and skipper Sam Whitelock is only just clear of concussion symptoms.

Sam Cane has not played since April. The omission of top finisher Waisake Naholo is strange, but can only mean the back three are expecting an aerial bombardment from the visitors.

Damien McKenzie says the All Blacks are taking nothing for granted against France despite a winning streak over the tricolours that extends back to 2009. Source: Breakfast

The midfield will have French skipper Mathieu Bastareaud under control, as Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown are reliable defenders, though Crotty will be undercooked.

It would help if Beauden Barrett can swiftly regain his 2016 international form. Fine weather is forecast and that will be helpful.

Steve Hansen has hinted at a tweaking of style just over a year out from Rugby World Cup, so we will see how that manifests itself in the All Blacks' attacking strategy.

So to the French. The default prediction is that they will be unpredictable, but that is often based around their revolving selection door policy and uncertainty around who wears their No. 10 jersey.

The late arrival of those in the Top 14 final is a red herring, as the XV they have chosen still has talent, ball-winning ability and pace. But they will miss the likes of hooker Guilhem Guirado, flanker Yacouba Camara and No 8 Louis Picamoles.

Source: 1 NEWS

Yet prop Uini Atonio knows NZ rugby, having grown up here, lock Yoann Maestri will not back down to anyone, and loose forward Kevin Gourdon will have picked the brain of clubmate Victor Vito.

Goalkicking halfback Morgan Parra features for the first time since 2015, though he would have seen Six Nations time were it not for injury.

Parra will use the box kick to good effect. Wing Teddy Thomas scored two solo tries in the Six Nations, while fullback Maxime Medard looks a bit like JPR Williams and has oodles of experience.

Prop Rabah Slimani, halfback Baptiste Serin and centre/wing Gael Fickou will offer real impact from the pine.

France were competitive in every Six Nations outing, beating England and Italy. They should have beaten Ireland and Wales too.

Underestimate Jacques Brunel’s men at your peril. The All Blacks won’t be complacent, but some of their key men are certainly underdone, so a blowout is not on the cards.

All Blacks to win by three