Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Carter out for next two tests

Playmaker Aaron Cruden's test start against France on Saturday won't be a one-off affair, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen today revealing Dan Carter's broken hand will also keep him out of next week's test in Christchurch.

If Cruden comes through the Eden Park and AMI Stadium tests unscathed, he has a real opportunity to push Carter for the third test spot in New Plymouth too.

Cruden this morning said he was feeling fresher than at any other time of the season after starting his campaign at the Chiefs with several injury issues including a sore groin. He confirmed he will kick for goal on Saturday.

Michalak on bench for France

The other main talking point from this morning's team announcement was the selection of Dane Coles at hooker for his first test start ahead of Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu.

His previous four tests have come via the reserves bench.

Hansen said the selection was all about giving Coles a go.

"We used him in all the tests at the end of [last] year and we're happy with where he is at. We see him as the future,'' Hansen said.

"He's not going to develop by sitting on the bench or watching the other two [Hore and Mealamu] go. He needs to develop so that's what we're going to do.

"The two older guys have been superb with him. They've really helped him. They understand what we're trying to do and it's a part of the leadership of the team that they know the future is Dane Coles and they have to play a part in that.''

Coles, who has missed a fair chunk of the Hurricanes season with a fractured eye socket but returned recently for the loss to the Brumbies, said: "I'm pretty confident in my fitness. Especially getting my first start. I think adrenaline will take over so I can't wait.''

Wyatt Crockett starts at loosehead prop ahead of Tony Woodcock, who has a hamstring strain and an abscess on his nose. Owen France has recovered from his hamstring problem to start at tighthead. There are no surprises with the rest of the pack, with Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick the locks and Sam Cane, Liam Messam and Kieran Read the loose forwards.

Aaron Smith gets the nod at halfback, with Hansen giving Piri Weepu another week off following his concussion when playing for the Blues against the Highlanders.

"We could have picked him,'' Hansen said of Weepu. "He's passed all the tests, but it's a three-test series and we've got three halfbacks and it's just not worth the risk.''

Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith make up the midfield, with Julian Savea and Ben Smith on the wings and Israel Dagg at fullback.

Hansen said of the French, who finished last in the recent Six Nations after beating only Scotland: "You can see Philippe [Saint-Andre] has taken them back to the French old style of play what's in front of you and enjoy your rugby. Although it wasn't successful for them at the Six Nations, it's about growing into that style of game. They've certainly got a monster forward pack so we're looking forward to the challenge.''

Read, who was born in Papakura, will have the honour of starting his first test as captain in front of many of his friends and family.

The uncapped Ben Afeaki and Jeremy Thrush have been named on the reserves bench, with Rene Ranger back in the All Blacks fold for the first time since 2010.

All Blacks team to play France at Eden Park on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Ben Afeaki, Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Rene Ranger.

France: Yoann Huget, Adrien Plante, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard, Camille Lopez, Maxime Machenaud, Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Thierry Dusautoir (c), Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Luc Ducalcon, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Guilhem Guirado, Vincent Debaty, Daniel Kotze, Alexandre Flanquart, Yannick Nyanga, Jean-Marc Doussain, Frederic Michalak, Maxime Mermoz.


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