DUNEDIN, New Zealand - The All Blacks dismissed the idea of spicing up the dead-rubber third Test against France by putting the already won Dave Gallaher Trophy back on the line. The series has been wrapped up after New Zealand won the first two Tests and locked away the trophy, contested between the two nations, for the 12th time in 14 series.
But when it was put to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen that it would make Saturday's final Test more interesting to have the silverware at stake, he was not interested. "There's no point giving someone else a break. We've got it so we keep it," he said, while adding that the rules for contesting the trophy were not his to make.
The All Blacks are using the Test to blood four new players -- centre Jack Goodhue and flanker Shannon Frizell were named in the run-on side, with fly-half Richie Mo'unga and lock Jackson Hemopo coming off the bench. France have dropped captain Mathieu Bastareaud and with his partner in the first two Tests, Geoffrey Doumayrou, out with a twisted ankle, Clermont centres Wesley Fofana and Remi Lamerat come in.
France are hoping their speed in the roofed Dunedin Stadium will bring a change of luck after controversial refereeing decisions went against Les Bleus in the first two Tests. They led 11-8 in the first Test until a disputed yellow card gave the All Blacks breathing space to launch an unanswered 44-point spree on their way to a 52-11 victory.
The second Test was marred by France fullback Benjamin Fall being incorrectly sent off in the 12th minute. It was not until a disciplinary hearing after the All Blacks won 26-13 that the mistake was acknowledged and the red card erased. But Hansen argued it was "pointless" raising issues that could not be changed, recalling the final moments of last year's third Test against the British and Irish Lions when New Zealand were denied a penalty that probably cost them a series win.
"You make the comment the French feel they've been hard done by. You can talk about any series and say that. That's the way rugby is," he said. "Go back 12 months and I can sit here and squeal about that too, but it's pointless isn't it?"
Devoid of a trophy or series outcome in Dunedin, the focus is on the centres where both sides will have new pairings. Hansen believes the tourists want to up the tempo as they seek their first win against the All Blacks since 2009.
"They've obviously got a plan there. The two guys they've put in the midfield aren't bad, they're world-class players. They're blessed with a bit of depth in that area and they'll be quicker," he said. "I wouldn't say they're better rugby players but they play a different type of game than what he (Bastareaud) does which will probably indicate they want to run the ball."
The All Blacks midfield sees the return of Sonny Bill Williams from injury and a debut for Goodhue, with Hansen working on combinations 15 months out from the World Cup. "One's got experience and the other one's brand new so it will be interesting to see how they go together," he said. "They're both big men, both fast men and good distributers. Jack Goodhue's probably as good as you'll get at putting someone into space."
All Blacks team: 1. Joe Moody (33), 2. Codie Taylor (31), 3. Owen Franks (97), 4. Samuel Whitelock (98) - captain, 5. Scott Barrett (18), 6. Shannon Frizell, 7. Ardie Savea (24), 8. Luke Whitelock (4), 9. Aaron Smith (73), 10. Damian McKenzie (14), 11. Rieko Ioane (15), 12. Sonny Bill Williams (46), 13. Jack Goodhue, 14. Waisake Naholo (18), 15. Ben Smith (65). Replacements: 16. Liam Coltman (1), 17. Karl Tu'inukuafe (2), 18. Ofa Tuungafasi (16), 19. Jackson Hemopo, 20. Matt Todd (13), 21. TJ Perenara (44), 22. Richie Mo'unga, 23. Jordie Barrett (4).AFP