After fielding an inexperienced side against the Barbarians at Twickenham last weekend, the All Blacks have named a strong team to take on France in Paris.
The team has a predictable look to it with Vaea Fifita starting over Liam Squire, who has been ill this week.
Luke Romano gets a rare Test match start as a reward for a strong outing against the Barbarians.
Romano is one of three players who we have picked out as those who will be yearning to have strong games to contribute to a clinical All Black performance:
1. Sonny Bill Williams
In recent appearances has shown his worth on defence as one of the All Blacks leading tacklers. Against the Wallabies last month, he was very active in defence and managed to win turnover ball.
Using his muscular frame, he will need to be the same imposing figure to shut down a French back-line that will have nothing to lose this coming weekend.
Where SBW has struggled this season is with ball in hand. Organised defences have shut him down and he has not had the same amount of time to get his trademark offload game going this season. This has affected the general cohesion of the All Black back-line were the outside backs are looking for his offloads.
To get his attacking mojo back, Williams should look to use direct running in between the French inside and midfield backs to create indecision early on. As the game progresses and with quality possession, he then will be able to play with the freedom we usually see from SBW.
He will want to avoid making any silly decisions in high-pressure situations.
His infamous red card for shoulder charging Anthony Watson in the Lions second Test was a game changer. In the dying stages against the Wallabies last month, he kicked away possession when the All Blacks needed ball in hand.
2. Luke Romano
Romano has had limited starts during the international window in 2017 due to playing second fiddle to the world class locking duo of Brodie Retalick and Sam Whitelock.
Scott Barrett has generally been preferred as the back-up second-row option who offers strong ball-handling skills and great running lines close to the ruck.
Romano showed against the Barbarians, that he still has plenty to offer for the All Blacks. He was industrious carrying the ball to go forward and was a presence with his defence in a wide open game.
His physicality against a fiery French pack will help the All Blacks gain ascendancy up front.
This is a wise selection picking Romano with Retallick not being available. Romano is a smart lineout technician, which will help the All Blacks, get quality set-piece ball.
3. Waisake Naholo
Naholo has a great opportunity in this test and for the remainder of 2017 to cement himself as a regular All Black.
With a number of regular outside backs unavailable for this tour including Israel Dagg, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ben Smith, a strong showing by Naholo will further his chances in 2018 and beyond.
Against the Barbarians the Fijian-born winger was the All Blacks best back showing a willingness to be involved which included making the final pass for two tries.
He will be looking to show a similar work rate this weekend and add to eight Test try tally. If the All Blacks can play their trademark attacking game and play goes Naholo’s way, he will be a challenge to defend for the French.
The All Blacks will go into this game as favourites against an injury-ravaged French team. In saying that French rugby teams are unpredictable and always embrace playing New Zealand.
If Williams, Romano and Naholo have strong games this will help build to an All Black victory.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena
[gravityform id=”1″ title=”true” description=”true”]