All Blacks side named: Aaron Smith benched for TJ Perenara

By Gregor Paul in Paris

Hard work, discipline and compelling form have earned TJ Perenara the All Blacks number nine jersey ahead of Aaron Smith for the last test of the year.

That, and coach Steve Hansen's belief that Smith's confidence has been dented by events of the last six weeks and as a result, his form hasn't returned to the dizzy peaks it reached earlier in the year.

"I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to know that Nuggy [Smith] has struggled since he came back," said Hansen "In that first game he obviously hadn't played for a while. The second game against the Italians he was better and he was better again against Ireland but team comes first and TJ's taken that opportunity and played really well and we feel he deserves a start so he is going to get one.

"It is right for the team. We could have given Nuggy the opportunity and he has been through a tough time and clearly it has knocked his confidence a bit. He is coming back slowly. You can see it in him and this week in training he has been good.

I am expecting him to come off the bench and play a big part when he comes on.

"What he's been through has been pretty touch for any person but to be in the limelight as he is and have to deal with all that along with his partner it has been horrifically tough.

"We know he is a quality player but confidence is a very important ingredient to any sports person and he has obviously taken a knock there. Give him time and he will come back in. I'm sure he'll do the job for us when he's asked to and then get a break like the rest of us and 2017 will be a new year."

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The pecking order at halfback was the only decision that took a bit of time to work through. Injury and suspension limited the coaches options. With Ben Smith's broken finger ruling him out, the coaches locked into a back three of Israel Dagg at fullback and Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea on the wings.

They briefly considered using Beauden Barrett and fullback and starting with Aaron Cruden at first-five - but there was no compelling reason to make two changes instead of one. Besides, as Hansen said, Dagg is in supreme form and fullback his natural home.

The only other tricky part was deciding whether to start with Matt Todd or Ardie Savea in place of the injured Sam Cane. Todd has been given the No 7 jersey primarily because Savea played much of the severely brutal test in Dublin that took plenty out of him.

And freshness, both physical and mental, will be key in Paris. The All Blacks have been caught out before in their last game of the year. In 2012 and 2013 they didn't have much left in the tank and perhaps that was a symptom, or maybe even the cause, of their minds not being in the right space.

A failure to have the right attitude at Stade de France would be a dangerous mistake for the All Blacks to make says Hansen, believing as he does, that they will be an entirely different team to the one that played in the World Cup quarter-final.

"There is definitely a difference between coming off a loss and coming off a win," says Hansen. "That is where good players are going to have to work mentally hard through the week to get that edge. It was only three weeks ago that we lost a game and you just can't get comfortable. This is a good French side and if we get comfortable we will get smacked.

"It is an inconvenient fact about France - the last two times we have been them by more than 50 points they have beaten us [in the next game]. We had a good win against them in the quarter-final a year ago and they will remember that and they will be hurt by that and we need to front with the same mental edge as we did in Dublin."

All Blacks team to play France
1. Joe Moody (23)
2. Dane Coles (48)
3. Owen Franks (89)
4. Brodie Retallick (59)
5. Samuel Whitelock (83)
6. Jerome Kaino (76)
7. Matt Todd (7)
8. Kieran Read - captain (96)
9. TJ Perenara (28)
10. Beauden Barrett (48)
11. Julian Savea (51)
12. Ryan Crotty (25)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (7)
14. Waisake Naholo (11)
15. Israel Dagg (60)

16. Codie Taylor (14)
17. Wyatt Crockett (57)
18. Charlie Faumuina (45)
19. Scott Barrett (3)
20. Ardie Savea (11)
21. Aaron Smith (57)
22. Aaron Cruden (46)
23. Rieko Ioane (1)

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