For the last decade, probably longer, there has been a constant fear in New Zealand that the exodus of good players to the French Top 14 would eventually damage the All Blacks.

It turns out, though, that to date, the exodus has been more damaging for the French national team than it has the All Blacks. Way more damaging.

The evidence is plain to see and irrefutable. It was in 2008 that France became the destination of choice for New Zealand players looking to play overseas.

It may have had something to do with the 2007 World Cup having been in France, but following that tournament, two men who had been there with the All Blacks, Jerry Collins and Chris Masoe, signed with Toulon and Castres respectively.

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Shortly after that Dan Carter announced he would be having a sabbatical with Perpignan and there has been a steady flow since.

Maybe the influx of New Zealanders helped France at first as they beat the All Blacks in June 2009 and then won the Six Nations in 2010.

And maybe as the flow of players out of New Zealand increased, the All Blacks did suffer at first as they were fairly dire for much of 2009 when they were hit by the defections.

But the picture changed quickly and dramatically. The All Blacks have been world number one since November 2009 and won two World Cups.

Kevin Gourdon of France reacts during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France at Eden Park on June 9, 2018. Photo / Getty Images.
Kevin Gourdon of France reacts during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France at Eden Park on June 9, 2018. Photo / Getty Images.

France, on the other hand, haven't won another Six Nations since their triumph in 2010 and besides a most extraordinary 2011 World Cup campaign where they somehow managed to reach the final after losing to Tonga in the pool stages, have been a major disappointment.

It is nine years now since they last beat the All Blacks and they look like a side that has lost its identity.

The analysis might not be fair but the French have stopped playing like France and that may be because their club scene has been so heavily infiltrated by foreign influences.

It is not just Kiwis who have been lured by the big spending French clubs, South Africans, Australians, Argentineans, Georgians, Italians, Englishman and plenty of Celts have all flocked to the most glamorous league in the world.

Such a heavy influx has caused an obvious problem for the French national team – that opportunities are being closed to local players.

There are weekends in the Top 14 when there won't be a single French eligible first-five starting a game; or there will only be a handful of French props on view.

But what is less appreciated and harder to define is the impact so much foreign influence has had on the French way of doing things.

To those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, there was nothing better than seeing the French in full flow. The likes of Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella, Franck Mesnel, Laurent Cabannes and Olivier Magne were compelling viewing.

The French could do almost anything and they were genuinely different; absolutely unpredictable and volatile. There was a quintessentially French way of playing and while they were erratic, they were also brilliant when they clicked.

But that essence has been lost and while the All Blacks have respectfully acknowledged the French style and made mention of their unique abilities these last two weeks, it has been hard to really buy the authenticity.

It's not the French are now a bad team or incapable of anything, more that they have become a little too like every other leading nation and that by adopting attitudes, drills and systems that have been introduced by foreigners through their clubs, they have become less of a threat.

Of course it is possible that France defy all the odds in Wellington, turn back the clock and reconnect with who they are to stun the All Blacks.

Possible but unlikely because while they may play considerably better than they did in Auckland, it's unlikely that they will do so in a quintessentially French manner.

It is more likely that the stoic qualities of a rush defence and accurate kicking game keep them close and that the old French flair remains off the menu.

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