It is perhaps appropriate that the All Blacks will face France in their first test back in Wellington after their loss here to the British & Irish Lions nearly 12 months ago, their first at home since 2009.

No team have the capacity to surprise the All Blacks like the French, and it was that (for the All Blacks) devastating 2007 quarter-final loss in Cardiff (which came following the 1999 semifinal horror at Twickenham) which forced Steve Hansen and company to re-evaluate their approach to the game and in particular their ability to react to the unexpected.

A major one is the loss of personnel, but it's not confined to that. The All Blacks specifically prepare for losing players to yellow and red cards – and many around the world would say that was a good thing given they were the equal worst offenders last year, with eight yellows and one red.

In 2017 that tally included two yellows in two separate tests but the All Blacks scramble to make up for the numerical disadvantage as well as any team in the game. They had prepared to lose a player during the World Cup final against Australia in 2015, but the fact that it was fullback Ben Smith who received it did catch them a little by surprise, and they conceded two tries before storming back again.


The point here is that the All Blacks take nothing for granted; flanker Sam Cane, for instance, studies his loose forward opposites for trends but not too much least he assume anything during the match. Expect anything, assume nothing, is their mantra.

Sonny Bill Williams' red card against the Lions for his high shot on Anthony Watson during the All Blacks 24-21 defeat in the capital the last time they were here was not thought to be a fatal blow for the coaches during the test, it was just that the players went into their shells and didn't attempt to play with the right mindsight until the match was effectively gone.

All Black Reiko Ioane in action against France. Photo / Photosport
All Black Reiko Ioane in action against France. Photo / Photosport

The main reason that Graham Henry and his then assistant Hansen were retained following the gut-wrenching 2007 World Cup departure was to put the harsh lessons learned into practice and few could have predicted the success that followed.

"One of the big lessons we learned is if you don't plan for the unexpected you're going to get smacked by it," Hansen said as he prepared for Saturday's second test against France.

"Ever since that day we've always expected the unexpected to happen and it's one of the reasons why I think that while it was a painful day in All Black history and particularly for the people who were involved in it, me being one of them, I think that game has had a significant bearing on what's happened since, and most of what's happened since has been pretty successful."

Hansen, a bruising midfielder for Canterbury who didn't quite make the All Black grade but who did play for La Rochelle in France, said the key for the French was their ability to carry and distribute the ball like few others.

"They've got a unique style when they play the French way which is they'll run the ball from anywhere," he said. "I know from my days playing there myself that everybody was a ball player. It's one of the unique things about the French, they've got big men who can run with the ball. I don't think that's change but perhaps they've gone through a period where they've tried to be a little more structured and I don't think that suits them or not.

"They'll try to slow the game down, that's the pace they want to play at, and we'll try to play at full bore with accuracy. That's our challenge and if it comes off it doesn't matter who you play if you play that game you can rip anyone apart. If you don't have accuracy though you can get beat too and that's happened to us."