All the action as the All Blacks took on France in the first test of the year.

Five of the eight starting All Blacks forwards will go into tonight's test against France with a lack of match fitness due to recent injuries or suspensions, a state of affairs which doesn't alarm the coaches but which will force them to get their replacement strategy dead right.

A case could easily be made to state that some, if not all, of props Joe Moody and Owen Franks, lock and skipper Sam Whitelock and loose forwards Liam Squire and Sam Cane are underdone.

The challenge for Steve Hansen and company will be to keep a close eye on the performances of those five key members at Eden Park while continuing to look at the bigger picture.


The challenge for the aforementioned five will be to blunt what is likely to be an early onslaught from the French who will see this as their best chance of victory while continuing to operate at an extremely high level for as long as possible; all this without the presence of world-class lock Brodie Retallick due to a chest injury which will rule him out until next month.

France coach Jacques Brunel smiled, shrugged and replied "I don't know" this week when asked if there would be any surprises from his side but there is little doubt his pack will be battle-hardened and up for it after a torrid club season.

Moody has played only two Super Rugby matches this season due to a thumb injury and a two-week suspension. His Crusaders mate Franks has played four due to his recovery from off-season Achilles tendon surgery and his own two-week suspension.

Whitelock hasn't played for four weeks due to a concussion, while vice-captain Cane hasn't played for the Chiefs since April 21 due to an abdominal strain.

"It has been continually 'I should be right this week' but I haven't been," Cane said. "The timing's right. I might be short of a gallop but I'll just go out there and empty the tank."
Of the five, blindside flanker Squire is perhaps the best placed in terms of recent game time; he's played the last two weeks for the Highlanders after recovering from a broken thumb but only five this season.

There is another question mark over the pack in terms of how reserve Vaea Fifita, who has been seen as a loose forward by the All Black selectors until now, goes at lock.
The plan is to replace Whitelock with Fifita in the second half but it is one that will obviously change should the increasingly important Scott Barrett receive an injury.

Should the replacements go to plan, right wing Ben Smith's leadership suddenly becomes extremely important, as he will be the captain once Whitelock and Cane leave the field.
"We're going to have to be smart about when we use our bench," Hansen told the Weekend Herald.