All Blacks: Ben Smith confident work on defence will pay off

By Patrick McKendry of APNZ in Paris

Ben Smith. Photo / Richard Robinson
Ben Smith. Photo / Richard Robinson

One of the curious things about this All Blacks team about to play France in Paris is that while it features some vastly experienced players, including four over or very near the 100-cap milestone, the backline has never played together. The French will probably sense vulnerability here.

Left wing Charles Piutau is starting only his third test, right wing Cory Jane hasn't played one this year, and centre Ben Smith is so new to the role he once again found himself explaining to the media that he is indeed prepared for the challenge after moving in one spot from the flank as Conrad Smith's replacement.

Outstanding on the wing for the All Blacks this year, Ben Smith has struggled to find his feet in the more complicated midfield position. He was undone a few times by the Wallabies in Dunedin and was quiet even against Japan in Tokyo last weekend.

While the French halfback/first-five combination of Morgan Parra and Remi Tales is also untested, the midfield of Florian Fritz and Wesley Fofana have the ability to ask serious questions of the All Blacks defence in general and Smith in particular.

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Coach Steve Hansen said Smith's tendency to drift on defence late in games was something the player was trying to fix.

Smith, meanwhile, accepted he could be targeted.

"They might do,'' he said. "The only thing I can do is prepare as well as I can for this game and I'm pretty confidence I can do a good job there and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

"I've just been making sure that defensively I'm making good reads and that sort of thing. It's one area that I've probably worked on in the last few weeks especially because it's a big change up from wing.

"It's just a totally different role. I quite enjoy it, you're a lot more involved defensively. It's just working with the people around you a lot more. On the wing at times [you're only] working with the guy inside you and the last man. I'm pretty confident I can do a good job there.''

Teams named to clash at Stade de France 9am Sunday NZT:

France: Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard, Remi Tales, Morgan Parra; Damien Chouly, Wenceslas Lauret, Thierry Dusautoir (c), Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Yannick Forestier. Reserves: Dimitri Szarzewski, Vincent Debaty, Rabah Slimani, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Antoine Claassen, Jean-Marc Doussain, Camille Lopez, Gael Fickou.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Charles Piutau, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden, Ryan Crotty.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa). Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Stuart Berry (South Africa), TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland).

- APNZ

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