PARIS – The All Blacks, keen to avoid a repeat of being taken “to the wire” in last year’s narrow 24-19 victory over France, expect nothing but the very best from the home team when they meet again in Paris on Saturday.
New Zealand saw off a spirited French fightback at the Stade de France in last November’s corresponding fixture, holding on for the win thanks to a fine defensive display in the dying minutes.
The danger posed by Guy Noves’ side is something not lost on veterans Sam Whitelock and Wyatt Crockett, returning to the All Blacks after sitting out last weekend’s 31-22 victory over the Barbarians.
“If you look back to last year when we last played them, the physical battle was massive and went right through the whole 80 minutes,” said Whitelock, the most capped lock in New Zealand history with 93 caps.
“Right at the end of the game we were on our own line for a number of phases, which is a place we didn’t want to be. We’ve taken the learnings from that, and hopefully can sort a few of those things out going forward.”
Crockett also predicted a “massive” game upfront.
“We know that the French always love that scrum battle. It’s a big part of their club rugby scene over here and international mindset, to win that scrum battle,” the 34-year-old loosehead prop said.
“They’re passionate and physical in the way they play, so we’ll definitely have to be sure to step things up.
“Last year was a massive Test, it went right down to the wire, and we had to really dig right down to our depths to try and win that Test match.
“The French on their day will beat anyone, so we definitely expect the very best from them this week.”
Whitelock, an ever-present for New Zealand who played in all seven matches in both the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups the All Blacks won – latterly smashing France 62-13 in the quarter-finals, admitted that a feisty battle was what ticked the boxes for a grafting front-five forward.
“It’s a great week for us as tight-forward members, these are the ones to really savour,” the 29-year-old said.
Whitelock acknowledged that his and Crockett’s time away from the squad for the Barbarians game had been beneficial.
“We got some really good training in, and were lucky enough to spend some time with our families,” he said.
“Hopefully the guys rejoining the group will bring an edge.”