France will be aiming for a first home win over the All Blacks in 16 years when the teams meet at Stade de France on Saturday.
The French will also be hoping to get some form of revenge for their humiliating quarter-final defeat to New Zealand at last year’s World Cup, when they were swept aside 62-13 as the Kiwis marched to a second successive World Cup title.
Steve Hansen and his players will want to finish the season, in which they lost only once, on a high note after a year in which only Ireland got the better of them.
No one else has come close and France will be well aware of the challenge that awaits them in Paris. They haven’t beaten New Zealand seven years and the last time they won at home was back in 2000 when they recorded a 42-33 victory in Marseille.
In a year in which Ireland and especially England have closed the gap between the northern and southern hemisphere teams, Les Blues will want to show they are not far behind.
The hosts find themselves eigth on the world rankings and have a considerable mountain to climb if they are to avoid being drawn in a so-called “group of death” for the 2019 World Cup in Japan. A win over the All Blacks will boost their confidence considerably and give them some early momentum for the Six Nations early next year.
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Considering the injuries they have Steve Hansen has picked his best possible side for this clash, meaning New Zealand won’t take this Test lightly. The French are the most unpredictable side in the world and will want to make a statement in front of their home fans.
France head coach Guy Novès has made three changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s clash with New Zealand in Paris.
In the back-line, Camille Lopez comes in at fly-half for Jean-Marc Doussain who wore the number 10 jersey in les Bleus’ narrow 25-23 defeat to Australia last weekend.
Lopez will form a halfback partnership with Maxime Machenaud, who will line up at scrum-half in his third consecutive Test after also starting against Australia and Samoa.
Out wide, Brice Dulin replaces Scott Spedding at full-back. This will be Dulin’s first start for France since their 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to the All Blacks.
Players to watch:
For France: Louis Picamoles has a chance to test himself against the best number eight around in New Zealand captain Kieran Read and will relish the forward battle against the visitors back row. At 30 years of age Picamoles is in the prime of his career and his experience will be key as France will no doubt try and get some parity up front.
For New Zealand: Anton Lienert-Brown has been a revelation at centre since making his debut earlier this year and has a chance to show Hansen that he deserves to be the first-choice number 13. Lienert-Brown’s seamless integration into Test rugby is proof of New Zealand’s incredible strength in depth and his ability to offload in the tackle will cause the French defence problems all night.
Head-to-head: Maxime Machenaud has established himself as the first-choice scrum-half for France over the last few weeks and will play a pivotal role in dictating the game together with Camille Lopez. Machenaud’s accurate kicking will also be important for France. He will face a stern test against TJ Perenara, who has been preferred for this game ahead of Aaron Smith. Perenara has been an excellent understudy to Smith and played well very time he is called upon by Hansen. While Smith is considered the best number nine in the business, Perenara will want to prove he isn’t far behind. The quality of Machenaud and Perenara’s service to their respective backlines and their ability to control the game with their kicking will go a long way in deciding this result.
2015: New Zealand won 62-13 (World Cup quarter-final) in Cardiff
2013: New Zealand won 26-19 in Paris
2013: New Zealand won 24-9 in New Plymouth
2013: New Zealand won 30-0 in Christchurch
2013: New Zealand won 23-13 in Auckland
2011: New Zealand won 8-7 (World Cup final) in Auckland
2011: New Zealand won 37-17 (WC) in Auckland
2009: New Zealand won 39-12 in Marseille
2009: New Zealand won 14-10 in wellinfgton
2009: France won 27-22 in Dunedin
Prediction: You never know which French side is going to pitch up but history and form suggests the All Blacks will be too strong for France. It should be an entertaining game. New Zealand by 10-15.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Charles Ollivon, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastian Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Gaël Fickou
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Rieko Ioane
Date: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)