After Boks, France eye All Blacks' scalp
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Fresh from their impressive defeat of the Springboks and last week's thrashing of Samoa, the French rugby team will be hoping to wrap up a highly successful series of autumn tests with victory over New Zealand in Marseille on Saturday.
AFP - France play New Zealand here on Saturday with a fantastic chance to claim a second antipodean scalp after having already seen off world and Tri-Nations champions South Africa.
The French team produced a storming physical display against the Springboks, causing problems at scrum time and also out-competing the visiting, combative back-row forwards in the loose.
"We've won two of the last three matches against New Zealand, including the World Cup quarter-final," said France coach Marc Lievremont.
"It's the last Test of their season, that on which they will be judged. More than us.
"Not seeking to play down the affair but a defeat would be less dramatic for us than for New Zealand, even if we would obviously be very disappointed."
The All Blacks have suffered four defeats this season, but have hit some form since kicking off their current tour with a win over Australia in Japan, seeing off Wales, Italy and England without really hitting second gear.
"We know we'll have to do a lot more to beat the All Blacks on Saturday," admitted France captain Thierry Dusautoir, who guided his team to the 20-13 win over the Springboks and a facile 43-5 victory over Samoa.
"The pressure's been building to a crescendo since last weekend," the Ivory Coast-born flanker said.
"If we succeed in beating New Zealand, we'll be able to say that we've really evolved and to draw some conclusions.
"It's a great test that we face this weekend."
Lievremont has importantly recalled big-kicking Damien Traille at full back and the outstanding Fabien Barcella at loosehead prop, two of seven changes from the side that defeated Samoa.
The coach's sole concern has been in the back row, with Louis Picamoles and Imanol Harinordoquy ruled out through injury.
Fulgence Ouedrago returns from injury to line up alongside No 8 Julien Bonnaire and Dusautoir.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has made three changes to his team that saw off England 19-6 last weekend, Neemia Tialata coming in for Owen Franks at tight-head prop, Jerome Kaino replacing Adam Thompson at blindside flanker and Zac Guildford making way for Cory Jane on the right wing.
"The French will be a passionate, physical side who are undefeated at home in their November Tests so it will be another huge Test for the All Blacks," Henry said.
New Zealand full-back Mils Muliaina, who captained the All Blacks in two Tests against France in the summer - the first of which was won 27-22 by the French in Dunedin, hoped his team were ready to deliver.
"We're building a little bit of momentum and hopefully on Saturday we'll get out there and explode," said the Samoa-born Muliaina, set to become the second most capped All Black with 82 appearances.
"We stepped up a bit in the England Test and we'll keep working on cutting loose and taking the right options.
"But from what we've seen of the French team we'll only get limited opportunities and we've got to take them all because we won't get too many.
"It's going to be a tough battle and a very tight match," Muliaina predicted.
"There's no doubting how big a game this is for us given how we went this year and how the French have gone so far in the autumn season.
"To lose four Test matches this season has been disappointing. A win on Saturday means we can get home, sit on the beach and feel much better."
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