The All Blacks boast a whopping 620 caps in their XV as they look to make it 3-0 against France when they face off in New Plymouth.
The All Blacks boast a whopping 620 caps in their XV as they look to make it a 3-0 series whitewash against France when they face off in New Plymouth.
With the series already sewn up and a game to play, many teams would rotate and subsequently weaken their XV. New Zealand instead bring in a wealth of experience in the form of Andrew Hore, Piri Weepu and Dan Carter while Rene Ranger is rewarded for his back-to-back cameos and starts.
Carter comes in for the in-form Aaron Cruden, who gets a well-earned rest ahead of what's set to be a busy run of Super Rugby and Rugby Championship. Meanwhile, there is experience aplenty in the midfield as Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith move on to 45 centre appearances as a pair. They're five off the record holders, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll, and should equal that feat – injuries permitting – during the away game against Argentina on September 28.
Smith, it seems, enjoys this Yarrow Stadium venue after having scored twice in both the previous internationals played there, against Samoa and Ireland. He may have some competition for a brace of scores this weekend though as we expect Ranger to have a very good outing in Julian Savea's vacated shirt.
Ranger, who ended weeks of speculation about his future, finally confirmed he would be moving to Montpellier in the near future. His has been a 'what if' career in New Zealand as countless impressive performances for Northland and the Blues didn't earn him the Test recognition many thought he deserved. We guess it just sums up the quality in the All Black ranks as players such as the new breed of Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau await their debuts off the bench. Current Baby Blacks captain and openside Ardie Savea is also surely being closely monitored as being a future All Black flanker due to his JWC showings.
In contrast, the future does not look rosy for the French. The Top 14 setup is flawed in terms of feeding new talent to the international team. One look at Ranger's new side Montpellier paints the picture as his midfield partner in 2013/14 will be Wynand Olivier. Perhaps more worrying is the effort of their U20 side on home soil, who finished the pool campaign with a played three, won one, lost two record. They will face Argentina in the fifth place play-off.
But can we blame the French senior team for possibly losing this series 3-0 or is the finger to be pointed elsewhere? In many people's eyes that latter is the choice due to a long season that began way back on August 17. New Zealand, meanwhile, are in the middle of their season and when the ITM Cup rears its head, many Test players will be looked after.
“It's the last game of a long, long season and our guys need to have a go, they need to respect New Zealand but don't respect them too much,” said coach Philippe Saint-Andre.
One recent suggestion to help Les Bleus' cause is swaying towards cutting two teams from the Top 14. We have seen the effect that overloading the club season can have on injury statistics and also rugby's entertainment value. Sometimes bigger isn't always better.
Ones to watch:
For New Zealand: There is such a settled look to the All Blacks XV even when they make changes. Victor Vito slots in in place of blindside Liam Messam while we all know about Piri Weepu and Dan Carter's international credentials. But for his box office and thrill-a-minute style, we can look no further than Rene Ranger as our player to watch. Montpellier have got themselves some talent for 2013/14. Meanwhile, a big hole needs filling at the Blues.
For France: Antonie Claassen has some big shoes to fill in Louis Picamoles' absence but he is capable of putting in a strong showing for Les Bleus. One player who is worth keeping an eye on though is full-back Brice Dulin. The 23-year-old Castres star has impressed for France when given opportunities and with the pressure off in this series, the stage is set for him to shine. A good performance here and he may cement the number fifteen spot.
Head-to-head: A first start for Remi TalÃ¨s and he is up against the best in the business. The 29-year-old Castres playmaker is the third French fly-half starter this June – to many it was surprising that Camille Lopez wasn't retained for all three games – so the jersey is up for grabs going to the end-of-year Tests. His two drop-goals against Toulon in the Top 14 final proved decisive but unlike that shock win, he probably won't have the same platform to attack. Carter on the other hand will slot back into this side like he has not been away.
2013: New Zealand won 30-0 in Christchurch
2013: New Zealand won 23-13 in Auckland
2011: New Zealand won 8-7 in Auckland
2011: New Zealand won 37-17 in Auckland
2009: New Zealand won 39-12 in Marseille
2009: New Zealand won 14-10 in Wellington
2009: France won 27-22 in Dunedin
2007: France won 20-18 in Cardiff
2007: New Zealand won 61-10 in Wellington
2007: New Zealand won 42-11 in Auckland
Prediction: No chance, France. New Zealand by 20!
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Marc Andreu, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Remi TalÃ¨s, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Theirry Dusautoir, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Bernard Le Roux, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.
Date: Saturday, June 22
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)
Assessor: Donal Courtney