New Zealand v France preview: All Blacks take on Les Bleus in repeat of 2011 final
New Zealand meets France in the quarter-finals tonight: 8pm kick off
Richie McCaw returns from injury to lead the All Blacks
There are a combined 988 caps in the Kiwi starting XV
France makes three changes
Today’s second match is a repeat of the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final, and New Zealand will be hopeful of avoiding a repeat of that nightmare 18-20 defeat in Cardiff.
Although both occasions in which New Zealand have lifted the Webb Ellis trophy have come as a result of beating France in the final, there will still be some lingering memories of that horror show in the Welsh capital eight years ago.
The All Blacks have been far from their best during this tournament, albeit they are the top try scorers in the competition despite a flurry of handling errors marring nigh on all of their performances to date. An improved performance will be required here against a typically temperamental French side, who are more than capable of causing an upset.
Les Bleus may argue that they are the greatest rugby nation to have never won the Rugby World Cup, despite coming agonisingly close four years ago in Auckland when they lost out to the All Blacks in the final.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has made four alterations to the side that demolished Tonga 47-9.
Captain Richie McCaw returns from injury to lead his country out in a World Cup match for a record equalling 11th time. Wyatt Crockett is in for Tony Woodcock at loosehead; Brodie Retallick replaces Luke Romano in the second row, and Julian Savea is back on the wing in place of Waisake Naholo.
With a combined 988 caps in this side, it is the second most experienced All Black side ever to take to the field in Rugby World Cup history, and the most capped team ever to compete in the knockout stages of the tournament.
McCaw and fly-half Dan Carter are the only two players in the matchday squad to have played in that ill-fated quarter-final in 2007.
France have made just three changes, with Bernard Le Roux replacing Damien Chouly in the scrum while Morgan Parra and Alexandre Dumoulin are in for backs Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Mathieu Bastareaud.
Philippe Saint-Andre has named his most experienced XV at this World Cup, but it is also the least capped French lineup in a knockout match since the 2003 semi-final.
There are five men that have beaten New Zealand in a Les Bleus shirt in the matchday 23, with Pascal Pape, Louis Picamoles and Bastareaud all starting in their last win in 2009, while Thierry Dusatoir completed a double over the All Blacks in that match, having also beaten them in the 2007 quarter final.
Skipper Dusautoir can also make history by becoming only the third Frenchman to score three tries against New Zealand, along with his coach and France Federation Vice President Serge Blanco. He also holds the honour of being the only player of any nation to have scored a try against the All Blacks in more than one Rugby World Cup.
Players to Watch
New Zealand: Richie McCaw
The return of the Mac cannot be underestimated. Overcoming a strong French scrum will be tough, but with the All Black’s most capped player back at number seven, the two-time Champions will fancy their chances of winning that battle. It is vital that McCaw keeps his head and leads by example, but having been there and done it, he will do whatever it takes to drag his side into the final four.
France: Thierry Dusatoir
This could well be genuinely a monumental battle with captain versus captain trying to steer their respective sides to victory. Dusatoir could make history with a try here, and a pick and drive approach would be a wise one to employ against an All Black side that allowed each of the three tries that they have conceded at this tournament to all be scored through the middle of their backline.
France have previous when it comes to causing upsets against New Zealand, and they return to the scene of the crime from eight years ago, when they stole a semi-final spot off the much-fancied All Blacks. Les Bleus have slowly built momentum through the competition, and they have had time to regroup and prepare for battle here following their defeat to Ireland in the final pool game. Although New Zealand have been far from the polished outfit that we have all come to expect, that can only be a bad thing as far as France are concerned. The All Blacks clearly have some gears left in which they can move into, as they look to keep their dream alive of becoming record three time World Champions. This will be their tightest match of this competition, and it could well all come down to the final 10 minutes.
New Zealand by 3
New Zealand: 15. Ben Smith, 14. Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13. Conrad Smith, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Julian Savea, 10. Daniel Carter, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Kieran Read, 7. Richie McCaw, 6. Jerome Kaino, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Brodie Retallick, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Dane Coles, 1. Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Joe Moody, 18. Charlie Faumuina, 19. Victor Vito, 20. Sam Cane, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Sonny Bill Williams
France: 15. Scott Spedding, 14. Noa Nakaitaci, 13. Alexandre Dumoulin, 12. Wesley Fofana, 11. Brice Dulin, 10. Frederic Michalak, 9. Morgan Parra, 8. Louis Picamoles, 7. Bernard Le Roux, 6. Thierry Dusautoir, 5. Yoann Maestri, 4. Pascal Pape, 3. Rabah Slimani, 2. Guilhem Guirado, 1. Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16. Dimitri Szarzewski, 17. Vincent Debaty, 18. Nicolas Mas, 19. Damien Chouly, 20. Yannick Nyanga, 21. Rory Kockott, 22. Remi Tales, 23. Mathieu Bastareaud
Date: Saturday, October 17
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, John Lacey
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman