Final test of the year an opportunity to send message to British & Irish Lions

By Gregor Paul in Paris

Steve Hansen and the All Blacks will need to use this test against France this week as an opportunity to send a message of fear to Warren Gatland and the Lions. Photo / Photosport
Steve Hansen and the All Blacks will need to use this test against France this week as an opportunity to send a message of fear to Warren Gatland and the Lions. Photo / Photosport

Hard to believe really that this test in Paris is the last the All Blacks will play before they take on the British Lions next winter.

And that adds another layer of importance to this last test of 2016. There's already plenty hanging on it. Obvious questions spring to mind - none more prominent than whether the All Blacks can find the same mental edge in Paris that they had last week in Dublin?

This time they are not coming off a loss. This time they don't have the hurt and frustration of defeat to drive them. Making things harder again is that they are coming into this last test having given everything they had against Ireland. They squeezed the last drops of fuel out of the physical and emotional tanks and have to find a way to fill them both ahead of playing France.

If they don't manage that, they will be in trouble. France aren't a great side by any means but they look better under coach Guy Noves than they ever did under his predecessor Philippe St Andre.

And, of course, they will find an extra something against the All Blacks. They always do and who knows, with their engines all stoked up and a bit of luck early, they could tap into their inner genius - a quality that everyone suspects is tucked away in every French team.

Hard enough then for Kieran Read and his team without the need for added pressure. But it is there whether they like it or not.

Lions coach Warren Gatland was in Chicago, he was in Dublin and if he's not in France, he'll have eyes and ears telling him what he needs to know. He'll have a good picture of what he thinks the All Blacks are all about anyway but this last test will tell him plenty. It will give him a better idea of how deep this All Blacks side can dig.

This is seventh test in nine weeks for the All Blacks - a time in which they have also been around the world twice. They are also going to be without two key leaders and players in Ben Smith and Sam Cane.

It will be a test of character firstly but so too will it be a test of how tactically and strategically versatile this All Blacks side is. They haven't yet shown on this trip the true effectiveness of their kicking game.

They haven't yet shown since they left New Zealand that they have a triple threat attack game. Against Ireland, they didn't really show any kind of attacking game and this is where the opportunity lies for the All Blacks to send a message to the Lions.

This is what the 2004 All Blacks did at the same ground. They thumped France in Paris by a record margin, playing a continuity game that was high tempo and high skill.

It was a game built on a foundation of rock solid set piece and brutal forwards, with the young Daniel Carter making everything happen from No 10.

It was a performance that scared Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward half to death - certainly got him heading down the wrong track with his response of believing he would be best to counter this sort of high octane game by picking old war horses to beat the All Blacks up and slow things down.

What might showing the full extent of the All Blacks' attacking repertoire do to the mindset of Gatland. Might he, like Woodward, panic a little and start thinking of outlandish ways to counter?

It's unlikely. Gatland is too calm, too good a coach, but still, it would do the All Blacks no harm to send an emphatic message that stays with the Lions until they arrive.

- NZ Herald

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