New Zealand names unchanged team for 2nd test vs. France
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) New Zealand has named an unchanged lineup for Saturday's second rugby test against France after winning last weekend's first test 52-11.
The All Blacks showed some rustiness in the first half of the opening test at Eden Park, trailing 11-8 at halftime, but ran away with the match by scoring seven tries and 44 unanswered points in the second half.
Head coach Steve Hansen, who has the luxury of naming an unchanged side for the first time in three years, said Thursday New Zealand's focus at the start of a new season was on building combinations.
''As we have a big focus right now on developing our game and working on our skill sets, connections and combinations, it isn't beneficial to be making wholesale changes, if any at all, to the playing 23,'' Hansen said.
''While we were really happy with the way we finished last weekend's test, we're fully aware that we still have a lot of work to do over the rest of the series.''
Hansen's decision to leave his team unchanged is a vote of confidence in the players who participated in the first test at Eden Park, extending their winning streak at the Auckland stadium to 41 matches over 24 years.
It is reflects a rare occasion on which the All Blacks have emerged from a test without injuries.
Hansen said he expected France to be highly competitive in Saturday's test at the Wellington regional stadium. France, who will name their team later on Thursday, will be reinforced by three players who missed the first test while playing in the French Top 14 club final.
''The French would've taken a lot of confidence out of their first 50 minutes on the weekend and will be coming to play on Saturday night,'' Hansen said. ''It will require us to raise our game to an even higher level.
''Rather than being inhibited by this we'll be embracing and walking towards the challenge. We'll be looking to play our own high-energy game with real intent. When it comes to our performance, we know there are high expectations from our fans. This, in turn, demands that we drive our own expectations even higher.''
Meanwhile, France coach Jacques Brunel has made five changes to his starting 15.
Benjamin Fall will play at fullback in place of Maxime Medard, Gael Fickou replaces the injured Remy Grosso on the left wing, Bernard Le Roux takes over at lock from Paul Gabrillagues and Kelian Galletier and Mathieu Babillot move into the back row in place of Judicael Cancoriet and Fabien Sanconnie.
Galletier and Fall played for Montpelier and Babillot played for Castres in the French Top 14 club final last weekend, making them unavailable for the first test. Babillot's selection causes Kevin Gourdon to move from flanker to No. 8.
Grosso, who was France's only try-scorer in the first test, suffered a double fracture of the cheekbone when pinioned in a tackle by All Blacks flanker Sam Cane and prop Ufa Tu'ungafasi. He has returned to France while Tu'ungafasi has been issued with an official warning by World Rugby for his part in the tackle.
Gabrillagues was wrongly yellow-cared for a high tackle during the second half of the first test when the scores were tied at 11-11 and that allowed New Zealand to take control.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock (captain), Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Damian McKenzie, Ngani Laumape.
France: Benjamin Fall, Teddy Thomas, Mathieu Bastareaud (captain), Geoffrey Doumayrou, Gael Fickou, Anthony Belleau, Morgan Parra, Kevin Gourdon, Kelian Galletier, Mathieu Babillot, Yoann Maestri, Bernard Le Roux, Uini Atonio, Camille Chat, Dany Priso. Reserves: Pierre Bougarit, Cyril Baille, Cedate Gomes Sa, Paul Gabrillagues, Alexandre Lapandry, Baptiste Serin, Jules Plisson, Maxime Medard.