Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen puts faith in same starting XV

Woodcock, Weepu and Hore the only changes to bench.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has put the heat on his starting XV to make significant improvements in the second test against France in Christchurch on Saturday.

As expected, Hansen has resisted the urge to make big changes to the team which began the three-test series with a rusty 23-13 victory over the French at Eden Park.

Loosehead prop Tony Woodcock and halfback Piri Weepu return from injury but only as far as the reserves bench. Wyatt Crockett has been rewarded for his solid performance with his second start for the All Blacks in his home city. It will be his ninth start overall in his 12th test.

The Crusaders player made his test debut at Lancaster Park against Italy in 2009 and received compliments from Hansen last weekend after running himself into the ground against a forward pack unwilling to take a backwards step.

Woodcock replaces Ben Afeaki on the bench and for him it is a big opportunity to wipe the slate clean on a massively disappointing year. Moving from the Blues to the Highlanders, Woodcock has been forced to endure a season low on form and high on injury. He is returning from a hamstring strain and abscess on his nose.

Weepu replaces Tawera Kerr-Barlow on the bench after taking an extra week off following his concussion while playing for the Blues in their defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin. The halfback was knocked out and carried from the field, yet passed his tests last week and could have been considered for the Eden Park test.

Fullback Israel Dagg gets another chance but the spotlight will be on him. Disappointing again for the Crusaders in 2013 after a below-par 2012, Dagg has been backed by Hansen and Co but the clock must be ticking.

With Rene Ranger in such damaging form, yet confined to the bench again, and Ben Smith also putting in a sparkling performance last weekend on the right wing, another ordinary performance from 25-year-old Dagg will surely see a change at New Plymouth next weekend.

Hooker Andrew Hore is selected on the bench ahead of Keven Mealamu, with Dane Coles retaining his starting spot.

The main area of concern for the All Blacks last weekend was the breakdown. The ability of the French to win ball or slow possession in this area meant Hansen's men struggled to penetrate a connected defence.

"Clearly, there has ... been a lot of work done on how we are going to approach the breakdown and I'm sure we will see an improvement there," Hansen said. "Overall, we have had a good week's preparation. It's now about putting that preparation and hard work into a performance on the track that we can all be proud of.

"The French, however, may have their own ideas about that and one pleasing aspect from last week's test is that we have been left with no uncertainty just how tough this weekend's test will be."

With temperatures in Christchurch expected to be 6C, compared with the sub-zero temperatures of last year's corresponding test against Ireland, the conditions should be better but the All Blacks are likely to take the field with a stinging reminder from Hansen to bring some heat of their own.

Captain Kieran Read will play his 50th test, with resting skipper Richie McCaw watching from the grandstand.

All Blacks v France - Christchurch, 7.35pm Saturday
1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Sam Cane, 8. Kieran Read - captain, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Conrad Smith, 14. Ben Smith, 15. Israel Dagg. Reserves: 16. Andrew Hore, 17. Tony Woodcock,18. Ben Franks, 19. Jeremy Thrush, 20. Victor Vito, 21. Piri Weepu, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Rene Ranger

- APNZ

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