Difficulties preparing for a largely unknown French team?

C'est la vie, say the All Blacks.

Sixteen injuries; feuding between national coach and president, and three wins from 10 tests this year seemingly combine to form the perfect storm this week.

France, from a rugby perspective at least, tends to embrace such chaos but even for them this seems next level.


With so many changes over the past two weeks alone locals are in the dark as to who will start against the All Blacks in Paris.

Under-fire coach Guy Noves is now expected thrust a pair of rookies into the cauldron, with 20-year-old three test Toulouse halfback Antoine Dupont and Toulon first five-eighth Anthony Belleau, one year older, tipped to start.

Last season Belleau, yet to make his international debut, knocked over a match-winning dropped goal to help Toulon beat La Rochelle in the Top 14 semifinal.

Facing the All Blacks is another proposition entirely, especially in your first dig at this level.

Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud will play his first test for two years in some form but he is competing with Clermont's Damian Penaud and Toulouse's Gaël Fickou in the midfield.

Beyond that, nobody really seems sure where Noves may go.

All Blacks lock Luke Romano encapsulated the challenge of the usual detailed video
analysis when he couldn't name one French player at the start of this week.

For this match more than Scotland or Wales to come, guesswork is required.

If nothing else, France have the element of surprise. And with such young halves nothing to lose.

"It's like any week where we're trying to second guess what their selections are going to be in some way," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said.

"We do want to have an idea of what the opposition is going to chuck at us. We've got information on a range of French players just like any other coaches have.

"We're looking at that, and trying to figure out how we'll play against the combinations that will be there. If we find out we're a little bit wrong later in the week we might make a couple of adaptions but whilst there's talk of injuries and disruptions that can galvanise a team. We've been there and we know what that's like."

Foster studied the Top 14 and five French matches in the Six Nations and felt, with the most offloads in world rugby, they were a team attempting to evolve.

"I know the local media seem to be questioning the situation they're in and some of the players but I think you'll be surprised. From what we've seen it's actually an exciting time for France. If they can get some of these younger guys through it's going to be massive for their depth. Our job is to make their lessons quite hard."

Regardless of who the French select, the All Blacks should have an edge about them after welcoming back a host of rested regulars and losing their last test to the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Despite the drama, they're also not silly enough to write-off the French. However small the chance, they are always capable of an upset.

"We're all under pressure for results. I don't think anyone is under any more pressure than anyone else to be honest. When I look at the French situation I see a massive player base and clearly every country has their issues but you've got a lot of quality players here.

"Our mindset is France will turn up. There will be people out there very proud wearing the blue jersey and we've got to make sure our energy and concentrate are at the highest levels."