Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Let's get it right first up, says skipper

Captain Read wishes France good luck before first test - but not too much

As a 12-year-old, Kieran Read went to Eden Park to watch his first All Black test.

His Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder made his run-on debut on the blindside that day in 1998 as the All Blacks, captained by another No8 Taine Randell, belted England 40-12.

Read will lead out the All Blacks tonight for the first time at home while regular skipper Richie McCaw continues his comeback to full fitness after his sabbatical.

The 27-year-old Read was at the park yesterday as his side went through their final dress rehearsal for the start of their three-test series with France.

As those drills unfolded, a lunch attended by McCaw continued to honour the park's centenary.

Later Read wandered across to talk to a much larger media gathering than he usually encounters before Crusader matches.

He was in strong voice and in no doubt about what he expects from his side.

"The first test we have to get it right," he said.

"No real excuses from our point of view so we will be looking for a really good performance."

Naturally, he was excited about leading his country again after doing the job for the first time in the 42-10 win against Italy last year in Rome, but his focus was all about personal and team performances.

Expectations within the All Blacks and from the public were all about a strong showing.

Read first watched that as a teenage Blues fan. His Counties allegiance and support for champion wings Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri ensured that before he headed south.

His 49th test will be his domestic test leadership debut with plenty of family and friends there to watch the special event.

There had been a real buzz about this week's work and Read thought the group was gelling well.

There had been slight differences for him with his additional duties but he felt comfortable and ready for work.

It was a massive honour to captain his country at Eden Park because it was a ground which held a lot of special memories for him and his family.

So was this really his true home ground, his spiritual rugby arena?

Read delivered a strong laugh and a camouflaged response.

"With a black jersey on, it is certainly special and with a huge crowd that turns up it makes it an awesome occasion," he said.

Seasoned hooker Keven Mealamu would lead the All Black haka before referee Wayne Barnes blew time on.

Read delivered the usual responses about France.

They would bring a serious assault up front and try to rattle the All Blacks there.

"I think they have been working away on their scrum and that is always their biggest threat and we expect that to come from them," he said.

Opposing captain Thierry Dusautoir was a very talented opponent, hugely respected in world rugby and players always wanted to test themselves against the best.

"He is very good. Good luck to him but not too much," Read said.

The All Blacks wore a specially embroidered training kit which resembled South Sydney league colours, for their last training session.

French lessons

2011 - All Blacks 8 France 7

The last meeting between these two sides is arguably the biggest in their 107-year history of fixtures. New Zealand finally claimed a second Rugby World Cup title 24 years after beating the French at Eden Park in the first World Cup final. It had only two tries but no doubt most New Zealanders regard it as a classic.

2007 - France 20 All Blacks 18

The grey jerseys, the yellow card, the "forward pass", the failure to kick a last-minute dropped goal ... none of these things happened. All that our records on this World Cup quarter-final showed was that France won and the All Blacks didn't.

1999 - France 43 All Blacks 31

Up 24-10 shortly after halftime the All Blacks were set for a third World Cup final appearance and a chance at redemption following the 1995 final defeat. Then 33 unanswered points from the French saw the All Blacks suffer their most stunning defeat since they walked off Thomond Park in 1978.

1994 - France 23 All Blacks 20

With France trailing by four points late in the second test at Eden Park they had to chance their hand to avoid a tied series. What occurred was what was dubbed the "Try from the end of the world" as seven French hands touched the ball before Jean-Luc Sadourny dived over for the match winner. The All Blacks haven't lost at Eden Park since.

1979 - France 24 All Blacks 19

The French are emotional at the best of times but playing them on Bastille Day added a bit more to the second test at Eden Park. The French won four tries to two as the Graham Mourie-led All Blacks lost their fourth-ever test to the Tricolours. As a 12 year-old, Kieran Read went to Eden Park to watch his first All Black test.

- NZ Herald

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