PARIS (AP) — A relatively experimental France side will have to get the better of New Zealand's most experienced pack ever in order to end its losing run against the All Blacks in Saturday's test match.
The last seven matches have all gone New Zealand's way — although the 2011 World Cup final was almost too close to call — and France's last victory home or away was a 27-22 win in June, 2009 in Dunedin.
"What's important is for the players to believe in themselves and play without the handbrake on," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "We have to be well organized and fight as much as possible, but fight intelligently."
The All Blacks warmed up for their European tour with a crushing 54-6 win over Japan in Tokyo last weekend, and will be looking to maintain their momentum before facing England and Ireland. Three All Blacks with 100-plus test caps and another with 98 will take the field at Stade de France, and the visitors' squad features 853 test caps in the starting XV.
In the forwards, 105-test prop Tony Woodcock will pack down alongside 108-test hooker Keven Mealamu, while captain Richie McCaw returns on the openside flank for his 122nd test match, and flyhalf Dan Carter plays his 99th.
Fullback Bruce Dulin, with only seven caps, prop Yannick Forestier, with five, and flanker Wenceslas Lauret, with four, are vastly inexperienced compared to their opposite numbers. Despite that gulf, Saint-Andre maintains France can compete.
"The players are ready mentally," he said. "We'll have to be very good in defense." The All Blacks edged France 8-7 in the final to win the World Cup two years ago. "The players know they just missed out on victory there (in the World Cup final) and there wasn't much missing," Saint-Andre said.
But Saint-Andre has taken the risky step of going up against the tactical brilliance of Carter with a new halves pairing of Morgan Parra and Remi Tales. "Morgan's experience counts, as well as his ability as a quicker," Saint-Andre said. "We need a long kicking game."
The visitors will be wearing their alternate white strip which will be embossed with a red poppy on the sleeve to again mark Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, on Nov. 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I.
Thirteen All Blacks died in World War I, including the 1905-06 Originals captain, Sergeant Dave Gallaher. The trophy, contested between France and the All Blacks, is named the David Gallaher Cup (La Coupe de David Gallaher) in his honor. New Zealand won the trophy in 2000, beating France 39-26.
"As well, the Dave Gallaher Trophy is again on the line," New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. "It means a lot to the team, and is certainly something extra to play for this weekend." France is one New Zealand's most feared adversaries in World Cups, twice overcoming the odds and coming from behind to win 43-31 in the semifinal in 1999 and their quarterfinal 20-18 in 2007. The French lost twice to New Zealand in the final itself — the first time was a 29-9 reverse in 1987.
"France is one of our great rugby foes and there is a rich history of matches between our two countries," Hansen said. "The French will come at us with real physicality, passion and something new." However, the French have not beaten New Zealand on home soil since an 42-33 win in 2000 and not in Paris since 1973 and have been some crushing losses — 45-6 in 2004 and 47-3 two years later.
Since the World Cup final, France has lost three times to the All Blacks on a tour in June — including a 30-0 rout — although Saint-Andre experimented with players. Lock Pascal Pape returns to the side for the first time since limping off injured against Italy in the Six Nations in February.
France is looking for form and confidence after finishing last in the Six Nations for the first time since the tournament was formed 13 years ago.
France: Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard, Remi Tales, Morgan Parra; Damien Chouly, Wenceslas Lauret, Thierry Dusautior (captain), Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Yannick Forestier. Reserves: Dimitri Szarzewski, Vincent Debaty, Rabah Slimani, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Antoine Claassen, Jean-Marc Doussain, Camille Lopez, Gael Fickou.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Charles Piutau, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden, Ryan Crotty.