All Blacks go to veterans to get job done

The All Blacks are backing a band of ageing warriors led by Richie McCaw in their showdown with France on Saturday and the chance to bury a nightmare in a rematch of their 2007 World Cup quarter-final.

New Zealand v France is more than just the first knockout match of the 2015 tournament.

It has all the ingredients for a colossal showdown at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium between two sides with bitter history.

New Zealand are again overwhelming favourites, but it is well documented how a fragmented French can galvanise when they face the All Blacks in a do-or-die situation.

They showed that in the 1999 semi-finals and the 2007 quarter-finals.

There have been reports of a player-led mutiny against French coach Philippe Saint-Andre and they are coaching themselves ahead the All Blacks clash.

If true, it would mean successive World Cups that this has happened after players effectively sacked then coach Marc Lievremont after losing a pool match to Tonga.

Amazingly, the French reached the World Cup final, going down 8-7 to the All Blacks in New Zealand.

But All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, who was assistant coach when the world champions capitulated eight years ago, said history was what motivated his side.

“Our guys love a challenge and we know there’s not many bigger challenges than playing France,” Hansen said.

Hansen’s answer is to bank on experience, selecting a side stacked with 1295 caps, six players over 30 and an average age of 28.

McCaw, the world’s most experienced Test player, is back from injury to lead the side in his 146th international.

Dan Carter, the world’s leading points scorer, plays in his 110th Test while Ma’a Nonu, who won out over Sonny Bill Williams to mark Wesley Fofana, will start in his 101st Test.

Hansen believes it will be that experience that gets his side through.

“When you are under the pump, you need people in that group that can cope with it,” he said.

France have spoken of “rage” after folding against Ireland in their last pool game and have targeted the All Blacks to show their true worth.

While the All Blacks have to erase their 2007 nightmare, France are still bitter over the 2011 final, claiming an avalanche of inexplicable penalties in the final 30 minutes aided the All Blacks.

French coach Philippe Saint-Andre has recalled experienced scrum-half Morgan Parra and replaced blockbusting centre Mathieu Bastareaud with the more elusive Alexandre Dumoulin in an indication he wants to take the game to the All Blacks.

“If we want to beat New Zealand we have to play the French way,” said Saint-Andre whose own playing years were when the famous “French flair” was at its peak.

But to do that they need possession and Saint-Andre, even with a talented loose trio of Louis Picamoles, Bernard Le Roux and Thierry Dusautoir conceded that has not been their strong point.

The All Blacks backs have been working themselves into form and produced some scintillating play in the second half of their last match against Tonga.

Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, while still a novice at this level, has shown in his first World Cup he knows the way to the try line.

Around him, the Smith trio – Ben, Conrad and Aaron – as well as Julian Savea, Nonu and Carter have been the core of the All Blacks’ seldom-bettered running game in recent years.

But like France, the All Blacks forwards have yet to produce a dominant performance.

New Zealand (15-1): Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Res: Keven Mealamu, Joe Moody, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams.

France: Scott Spedding, Noa Nakaitaci, Alexandre Dumoulin, Wesley Fofana, Brice Dulin, Frederic Michalak, Morgan Parra, Louis Picamoles, Bernard Le Roux, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Yoann Maestri, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado, Eddy Ben Arous. Res: Dimitri Szarzewski, Vincent Debaty, Nicolas Mas, Damien Chouly, Yannick Nyanga, Rory Kockott, Remi Tales, Mathieu Bastareaud.

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