The side effect of being consistently good is that it creates a burden of expectations. Or maybe the cause of being consistently excellent is having to always carry this burden of expectations.

Whatever the cause and the symptom, the All Blacks tread, again, a fine line in Paris.

They have had, so far, an incredible season winning as they have 12 of their 13 tests.

There has been plenty of good rugby - great rugby- along the way, as well as the Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship and world record of consecutive wins.


And yet, for all that, if they lose tomorrow morning against France, their season will carry the worrying sense of things not being quite right. Thoughts about this side will change quickly and almost ridiculously, from some people bemoaning the All Blacks' dominance in September, there will be others fearing for their future by December.

That's how it is, though, with this team. The margins are tiny and two defeats in a season doesn't leave them or their followers with much comfort. So, it's a big game...obviously and no one will be feeling like that more than captain Kieran Read.

His season mirrors that of the team. He's been outstanding for much of it. His form through June was strong and it held well enough through the Rugby Championship. He hasn't been as prominent with the ball in Europe, but his tackling has been superb and maybe he hasn't been vintage Read, but he's been good enough to lead by example.

All Blacks loose forward Matt Todd has been named as the starting openside flanker for the test against France in Paris.

His captaincy has grown, too. He'll feel he maybe didn't get across what he needed in Chicago, but he did in Dublin. And isn't that what captaincy is all about - learning and adapting from previous experiences?

His predecessor Richie McCaw was one of the greats, but he wasn't one of the greats when he was only 20 or so tests into his tenure the way Read is.

"He's a different kind of captain to Richie," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "They do some things similar, and obviously one of those things is playing well.

"You expect your leaders to be some of the best players and the park, and he has done that throughout the year. He is struggling a bit with his wrist over the last part of the season, but he is still playing very well.

"He has taken the opportunity to lead with his own style, is very inclusive and has done a very good job. He will get better."

A commanding performance at No 8 in Paris would go a long way towards making it clear that Read, like the All Blacks, has had a superb season. The French will be physical - they have picked a huge team to run at the All Blacks. They will be passionate - that 62-10 last encounter will be angering them. And they will be volatile, they always are and that means they could erupt in any way.

They could play the All Blacks off the ball or just cut loose with unstructured rugby - no one ever knows and this young All Blacks side needs to be led well in that kind of environment.

It's a night for Read to put down one last marker that says he and his team thrive on expectation.