All Blacks: Hansen puts faith in experience

Steve Hansen has named the most experienced All Blacks team in history to play France in Paris on Sunday.

In what is the first leg of a potentially momentous three-week European tour for his men, the squad, including skipper Richie McCaw, prop Tony Woodcock and hooker Keven Mealamu, whom have all played more than 100 tests, features 853 caps in the starting XV plus a further 112 caps on the bench for a total of 965.

The team is a stark contrast to the developmental-looking outfit which beat Japan in Tokyo last weekend.

Cory Jane returns from his hamstring injury to start on the right wing for what will be his first test this year following his recovery from a knee problem. Prop Owen Franks is back from a groin injury which has ruled him out of all rugby since the Rugby Championship victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires on September 29.

Julian Savea's flu opened the door to a starting spot for Jane, with Charles Piutau always a confirmed starter on the left wing, said Hansen, a just reward for his sparkling performance for the All Blacks against Japan and previous good form against Australia in Dunedin.

Aaron Smith is back at halfback, with Ben Smith at centre and Israel Dagg at fullback. The locking duo of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are reunited.

The All Blacks will wear their alternate white strip with a poppy on a sleeve to commemorate Armistice Day, held on Monday, November 11, which marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.

For Hansen, the experienced line-up means the majority of his starting players will know what to expect against France this weekend _ a team determined to avenge their three-test whitewash in New Zealand in June.

"It brings experience and understanding of what you've got to do in a big occasion,'' he said. "We certainly won't be taking the French lightly. For them it's a big occasion as well. It's their first home test of the [season]. It's being played in a magnificent stadium and the significance of the match ... is huge for us.''

Hansen said Piutau's progression since his debut this year against the French in New Plymouth had been a real highlight.

"He came out and showed real maturity against Australia down in Dunedin, defended magnificently, and with the ball in hand he's electric. He's got the ability to beat people and he showed that again against Japan. Aerially he's strong. He's in good form _ he's had two [starting] opportunities and he deserves another one.''

Hansen said the selection of Franks ahead of Charlie Faumuina was based on experience as well the mobility that Faumuina offers as a substitute.

The hooker rotation has remained, with Andrew Hore likely to be involved against England next weekend at the expense of Mealamu.

"It's always massive part of the battle when you play France,'' Hansen said of the pressure France are likely to exert at scrum time. "There's not too many nations in the world that will kick it out on the full to have a scrum or knock it on intentionally to have a scrum. There's a famous story here about two club sides who played in a final and the front row had already packed down before the guy had kicked it. They love their scrummaging, it's the heartbeat of their game. We need to match that and put them under pressure if we can.''

Unbeaten this year, the All Blacks face England and Ireland in their remaining tests on tour.

The All Blacks team to play France at Stade de France on Sunday, kick-off 9am NZT (caps in brackets) is: Israel Dagg (35), Cory Jane (43), Ben Smith (23), Ma'a Nonu (85), Charles Piutau (8), Daniel Carter (98), Aaron Smith (23), Kieran Read (58), Richie McCaw (c) (121), Liam Messam (26), Sam Whitelock (48), Brodie Retallick (21), Owen Franks (51), Keven Mealamu (108), Tony Woodcock (105). Reserves: Dane Coles (12), Wyatt Crockett (21), Charlie Faumuina (15), Steven Luatua (9), Sam Cane (14), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (12), Aaron Cruden (27), Ryan Crotty (2).


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