All you need to know: All Blacks vs France

By Alex McLeod

Alex McLeod runs through all you need to know you need to know ahead of this morning's match between the All Blacks and France.

Stade de France, Paris, 9am kick-off

The 57th meeting between the All Blacks and France will take place at the Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, with the home side hunting for an upset win over the All Blacks in the last test of the year for both teams.

The match will be the sixth test between the All Blacks and Les Bleus at the Stade de France, with the French searching for their first victory over the New Zealanders at their national stadium since the two began playing each other at the venue in 2000.

It was in 2002 where France were the closest to defeating the All Blacks at the 81,300-capacity stadium, finishing in a 20-all draw in the third meeting between the two sides at the Stade de France.

Since then, France have lost their following five matches to the Kiwis in Paris.

In total, 11 matches have been played between the All Blacks and France in the French capital since 1906, with the All Blacks finishing as victors on nine of those occasions.

The only win France have experienced over the New Zealanders in front of their Parisian fans was 43 years ago in a 13-6 victory at the Parc des Princes in 1973.

Statistics from more recent encounters between the two nations doesn't help France's case in their search for an unlikely victory this weekend, as the French have scored just two wins in their past 20 meetings with the reigning world champions.

However, the importance of those two victories should not be undervalued, as any All Blacks fan will know all too well.

The first of those two wins came in the famous 20-18 upset win in the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final at the Millennium Stadium - now known as Principality Stadium - in Cardiff, arguably the bleakest day in New Zealand rugby history.

The second of the two victories came in the very next match the two played against each other in 2009 at Carisbrook in Dunedin, where the French scampered away to 27-22 victory en route to claiming what is now known as the Steinlager Series, becoming the only nation to have won the series over the All Blacks since its inauguration.

Since then, however, they have crashed back down to earth, with the All Blacks looking to make this weekend's match their tenth consecutive victory over the French, a streak dating back seven years and includes three victories across two Rugby World Cups, including the ultra-tense 8-7 win in the final of the 2011 edition at Eden Park, and the 62-13 drubbing in the quarter-final stage at last years event in Cardiff.

In the lead up to this test, both sides have experienced mixed fortunes during the November test window.

The All Blacks suffered their first ever loss in 111 years to Ireland in Chicago, before gaining revenge last week in Dublin with a physically brutal 21-9 win in one of the most captivating tests of the season.

In between the two Irish tests, a 68-10 rout against Italy in Rome was played out in a match that was used to give fringe players within the squad a chance to prove their worth more than anything.

France meanwhile opened up their 2016-17 season with a 52-8 thrashing of Samoa in front of a sold out Stadium Municipal in Toulouse, followed by a tight 25-23 loss at the hands of the Wallabies in Paris, with a missed drop goal in the 83rd minute by playmaker Camille Lopez proving to be the difference between a win and a loss for the French.

A win for the All Blacks would see them head into their off-season in good spirit following an outstanding year thus far, and will leave them in good stead heading into the 2017 Super Rugby season and the British and Irish Lions tour next winter, while a victory for France will have coach Guy Noves and his players brimming with confidence leading into what is set to be an extremely competitive Six Nations competition early next year.

Line Ups:

Steve Hansen has named his strongest possible side, with injuries and suspensions taken into account going into the final match of 2016.

The key talking point amidst the announcement of this week's All Blacks side is that TJ Perenara has ousted Aaron Smith to start at halfback.

Hansen and his colleagues have lost patience with the Highlanders halfback after two below average performances against Ireland in Chicago and Dublin - believed to be a result of loss in confidence, according to Hansen - as well the fact Perenara has been playing irresistibly well for the national side over the past couple of months, resulting in a start for Perenara and Smith being consigned to a spot on the bench.

Meanwhile, two changes have been made in the forward pack, with veteran blindside flanker Jerome Kaino returning from a calf strain to take the number six jersey back from rookie Liam Squire, who was physically and defensively impressive against Ireland in Dublin last weekend.

With Sam Cane ruled out due to a knee injury, there has been a re-shuffle at openside flanker, with Matt Todd set to play in his second match of the tour, while Ardie Savea, who played a majority of the match in Dublin last week following Cane's early departure, retains his spot on the bench.

A one match suspension to midfielder Malakai Fekitoa has opened up a spot for Ryan Crotty to return from the injury he picked up against Ireland at Soldier Field three weeks ago, slotting into second-five-eighth, while Anton Lienert-Brown moves out one place to vacate the number 13 jersey.

Injured vice-captain Ben Smith has loaned his usual fullback role to the in-form Israel Dagg for this weekend, with flyer Waisake Naholo promoted from the bench to the starting XV to take Dagg's place on the right wing.

Teenage sensation Rieko Ioane is set to earn his second test cap after being named in the number 23 jersey as Naholo's replacement.

France coach Guy Noves has made three changes to the starting XV that narrowly fell short to the Wallabies in Paris last weekend.

Loosehead prop Xavier Chiocci is promoted from the bench to a starting role as he replaces Cyril Baille of Toulouse in a straight swap.

It's another straight swap at first-five-eighth, with Camille Lopez - who missed the last minute drop goal attempt to win the match last week - taking the number 10 jersey off of 25-year-old Jean-Marc Doussain.

The final change to France's starting side comes at fullback, with South African-born Scott Spedding coming out of the match day 23 entirely as Dan Carter's club teammate Brice Dulin replaces him at number 15.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.

Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Rieko Ioane.

France: Brice Dulin, Noa Nakaitaci, Rémi Lamera, Wesley Fofana, Virimi Vakatawa, Camille Lopez, Maxime Machenaud, Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Charles Ollivon, Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Uini Antonio, Guilhem Guirado (c), Xavier Chiocci.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Cyril Baille, Rabah Slimani, Julien Le Devedec, Damien Chouly, Baptiste Serin, Jean-Marc Doussain, Gael Fickou.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Odds:

The TAB has the All Blacks as overwhelming favourites to take out the test, paying out at $1.05 for a New Zealand win, while an upset in favour of Les Bleus is paying out at $8.00.

Fijian-born wing Waisake Naholo has been listed as the favourite to score the first try of the match, with the TAB paying $5.50, while the 11-test Highlander is also favourite to score a try at any point throughout the match, paying $1.75.

The French favourite to score a try at some point in the match is jointly held by their two Fijian-born wings Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa, with the TAB offering odds of $5 for either of them to cross the chalk.

However, similarly to the vast majority of sides that have faced the All Blacks this year, no try scorer is the lowest paying option for France, with nobody to score for the French in the match paying $2.25.

Other test matches throughout the weekend:

Samoa vs Canada, 8am Saturday (NZT), Stade des Alpes, Grenoble, France.
Germany vs Brazil, 2:30am Sunday (NZT), Bruno-Plache-Stadion, Leipzig.
Italy vs Tonga, 3am Sunday (NZT), Stadio Euganeo, Padua.
Fiji vs Japan, 3:10am Sunday (NZT), Stade de la Rabine, Vannes, France.
England vs Argentina, 3:30am Sunday (NZT), Twickenham, London.
Scotland vs Georgia, 3:30am Sunday (NZT), Rugby Park, Kilmarnock.
Romania vs Uruguay, 5am Sunday (NZT), Stadionul Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest.
Ireland vs Australia, 6:30am Sunday (NZT), Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Wales vs South Africa, 6:30am Sunday (NZT), Principality Stadium, Cardiff.

- NZ Herald

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