Fifita named in All Blacks lineup for France test

AP
Kaino is quitting the tour and returning to New Zealand after injuring his posterior cruciate ligament in what may mark the end of his 81-test career.
AP

Backrower Vaea Fifita will play the biggest test of his career when he starts for the All Blacks against France on Saturday in the first test of their northern hemisphere tour.

Fifita has been selected on the blindside flank for the match in Paris after illness ruled out first choice Liam Squire and veteran Jerome Kaino was sidelined with a knee injury.

Kaino is quitting the tour and returning to New Zealand after injuring his posterior cruciate ligament in what may mark the end of his 81-test career.

Fifita made a big impression in his first major international test, scoring a match-winning try in New Zealand's home match against Argentina during the Rugby Championship. But he is young and raw and would likely have been held back if circumstances had not forced his selection.

In other significant selections, rising star Rieko Ioane has been picked on the left wing after overcoming a bout of mumps and Damian McKenzie returns at fullback in a leap of faith by the All Blacks selectors.

McKenzie has immense talent but his recent performances have been patchy and the slightly-built player might also face his biggest career test against the physical French.

New Zealand's matchday 23 features 11 players who took part in last weekend's non-test win over the Barbarians at Twickenham. That core of players is bolstered by the return of a number of senior All Blacks, including captain Kieran Read, hooker Dane Coles, lock Sam Whitelock, scrumhalf Aaron Smith and midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty.

Prop Wyatt Crockett and flanker Matt Todd also return to add strength to the bench.

"This weekend is another opportunity for us to continue growing our standards, our game and our skill sets," head coach Steve Hansen said. "If we can do that and put in a complete 80-minute game, we'll go a long way to putting in a performance we can be proud of.

"Having said that, France are an exciting team and playing France in Paris is one of the biggest challenges in rugby."

New Zealand lock Luke Romano gestures during a press conference in Paris on November 9, 2017, ahead of the test match against France on November 11, 2017.

France is considered as New Zealand's bogey team, having a better record of upset victories over the All Blacks than any other team. The Les Bleus best was in the quarterfinals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup at Cardiff when they eliminated New Zealand, which was the tournament favorite.

But France hasn't beaten New Zealand in Paris since 1973 and, with as many as nine topline players out with injuries, is thought to have little chance of ending that drought.

Hansen said there was still hope that Kaino would return to the All Blacks squad next season.

"He's pretty philosophical about it," Hansen said. "It's not the end of his test career at this point."

Hansen said Fifita is "still very much at the learning stage", adding: "We'll see how far he has come in that short time."

Mathieu Bastareaud, meanwhile, will make his France comeback more than two years after his last appearance after the Toulon center was named in the starting lineup for the New Zealand test.

Coach Guy Noves on Thursday named a team that will be led by scrumhalf Antoine Dupont and flyhalf Anthony Belleau, in the absence of the injured Camille Lopez.

Noves had to make do with a dozen of withdrawals because of injuries.


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