The All Blacks are questioning French promises to play without inhibition in their Paris Test, believing the Gallic flair of yesteryear is buried in the hosts’ past.
France have scored just five tries in their last seven Tests against New Zealand, all of them defeats, prompting suggestions that a return to a more expansive game will reap rewards in Saturday’s match at Stade de France.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre added fuel to that prospect by calling on his players to “throw caution to the wind” and be bold if they want to bounce back from June’s 3-0 series drubbing in New Zealand.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster doubts Saint-Andre will be able to overhaul, in less than a week, the methodical style he has employed for nearly two years in charge.
“I’m not sure what being bold means for the French. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to chuck the ball everywhere,” Foster said.
“In the past there has been a flair to their game but there wasn’t as much attention to some of the detail of the game.
“Their physicality at set piece and the breakdown are their core strengths and I can’t see them moving away from that part of the game.”
Foster says there is still ample attacking talent in the French backline but it only tends to be employed once they are going forward.
He describes Wesley Fofana – who scored France’s lone try in the June series 10 minutes into the first Test – as among the premier midfield backs in Europe.
However, Foster suspects the Test won’t be the bright spectacle that some may hope for, instead predicting a trench battle, closer to what unfolded in the World Cup final two years ago.
“They’re a team who we found hard to break in June and we’re pretty sure Saturday will be no exception.”
While Saint-Andre has a fresh host of injury concerns to contend with, there are no major problems for the tourists.
Wing Julian Savea, among the nine players who skipped Saturday’s 54-6 win over Japan in Tokyo, has spent most of his first two days in Paris laid low battling an illness.
Luke Romano is nearly fully recovered from the groin injury that has sidelined him for 10 weeks although coach Steve Hansen hinted they will probably be conservative and leave the Crusaders lock out for another week.