Rugby has changed but the All Black concrete mixers don't muck around. Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks always head to the same work stations.

They've added many extras to the push and thump commandments of yesteryear and often find themselves carrying the ball or used in the intricacies of moves through the middle of the park but their core set-piece excellence is mandatory.

Those specialist duties remain the critical elements about their selection in the one, two and three jersey numbers as they eye the start to the 2018 All Black programme against France at Eden Park tomorrow.

Behind the pack, the message is about players' versatility and ability to cover multiple roles with halfback Aaron Smith the only specialist in that roll-call.


The Barrett brothers can play across the backline, Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown are inter-changeable while Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane have been used in roles throughout the backline and are encouraged to roam.

In the 23-man game, subs and the ability to cover every contingency are crucial parts of the mix if serious injury, blood bins, sin bins or worse come into play. The cult of the adaptable player is in vogue.

A generation ago, the All Blacks lost a test at Eden Park — against France when Jean-Luc Sadourny scored "the try from the end of the world". It began in hope from the Dominion Rd end of the ground and finished in spectacular glory at the Sandringham Rd boundary of the park.

That was the All Blacks' 279th international and this weekend they will play their 567th test. There have been close calls and two deadlocks in that time but the All Blacks have not lost in 40 tests at the famous ground.

Rugby was still amateur in name 24 years ago, defensive systems were not as sophisticated and there was nothing like the concentrated emphasis on every detail of the game.

For that match, injury and form and combinations meant the All Blacks picked John Timu and Matthew Cooper in different roles from their provincial duties. They were players with a broad range of skills which helped the selectors cover some gaps in their selections.

Timu made his reputation on the wing before taking on the challenges at fullback and Cooper was a goal-kicking outside back who also worked in midfield — players who gained a reputation as utilities who delivered high value and would be classed as versatile now.

They didn't get as much help or assistance as current players do from their teammates and coaching staff.


First-five Stephen Bachop made his All Black debut that day and a teenage Jonah Lomu was on the wing for his second test and while he became one of the most feared men on the park a year later at the World Cup in South Africa, his play against France in the No11 jersey that day was mixed.

The All Black pack was in strong form and while the backs stuttered against a resilient French defensive system, the hosts had the lead nearing the final minutes before La Marseillaise overwhelmed the night in Auckland.

We hear France have beefed up their defence with new coach Jacques Brunel but on recent evidence there's a consistent gap between what we hear and how they play.

Maybe they will deliver a shock to rival 1994.

However, these All Blacks are a different beast and that is a fact.