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All Blacks look to rebuild

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Isaia Toeava - New Zealand

Image credit: Reuters

ByReuters
11/06/2009 at 10:24

New Zealand's rebuilding programme for the 2011 World Cup on home soil continues in earnest on Saturday when they play the first match of a two-Test series against France in Dunedin.

Coach Graham Henry lost a host of experienced players in the wake of a shock defeat to the French in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup, but recent injuries to key players have forced him to develop greater depth in several positions.

Captain Richie McCaw, fly-half Daniel Carter and number eight Rodney So'oialo are all missing from the series through injury while lock Ali Williams will not play on Saturday after battling an Achilles' problem for most of the Super 14.

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Utility back Isaia Toeava (pictured) has also been drafted into the side and will start at centre after Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui were both ruled out.

Adam Thomson, who excelled at blindside flanker for the Otago Highlanders throughout the Super 14, has been given the chance to prove himself at openside, while Liam Messam, who played blindside for the Chiefs, starts at number eight.

Lock Isaac Ross, the son of former All Black Jock Ross, will make his debut in the second row alongside Brad Thorn, following the injuries to Williams and Anthony Boric, who has a broken toe.

Most scrutiny, however, will fall on fly-half Stephen Donald, who was introduced last season to back up Carter, to see whether a consistent run of starts at number 10 will transfer his superb Super 14 form for the Chiefs into the international arena.

In recent years, under-strength French teams have travelled to New Zealand after a gruelling club competition, taken a beating and headed home.

Despite a build-up disrupted by the late arrival of players appearing in last weekend's French club final, All Blacks' backs coach Wayne Smith expects the latest batch of tourists to provide a sterner test of New Zealand's credentials.

"Under (Marc) Lievremont, they've counter attacked a lot more than they have in the past eight years or so," Smith said.

"You've got to be careful with the opportunities you're going to give them.

"You go back to the '94 series, they were magnificent," he added of the team that scored a length-of-field try described as being from 'the end of the world' to seal the test series.

"They've always been able to do that but they've been a lot more structured in the past.

"He (Lievremont) has brought a bit more variety to their game, which makes them a bit more dangerous."

New Zealand: 15-Mils Muliaina (capt), 14-Josevata Rokocoko, 13-Isaia Toeava, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 11-Rudi Wulf, 10-Stephen Donald, 9-Jimmy Cowan; 8-Liam Messam, 7-Adam Thomson, 6-Keiran Read, 5-Issac Ross, 4-Brad Thorn, 3-Neemia Tialata, 2-Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock

France: 15-Maxime Medard, 14-Cedric Heymans, 13-Mathieu Bastareaud, 12-Damien Traille, 11-Vincent Clerc, 10-Francois Trinh-Duc, 9-Julien Dupuy; 8-Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6-Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 5-Romain Millo-Chluski, 4-Pascal Pape, 3-Sylvain Marconnet, 2-William Servat, 1-Fabien Barcella.

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