Intensity has been a key word in the All Blacks camp this week ahead of their must-win Test match against France at Westpac Stadium in Wellington tomorrow. The All Blacks coaches admitted their side had been outplayed by the physical French 27-22 in Dunedin last week and would need to step up here to avoid becoming the second New Zealand side to lose a home series to France.
The 1994 French team won that series 2-0, with the second match at Eden Park in Auckland decided by a length of the field try that was described as coming "from the end of the world". "We are trying to raise the bar and raise the intensity this week as we should be," the assistant All Blacks coach Wayne Smith said. "The players are fine about it. Their lives are centred around winning they'll do anything.
"They are under the pump now with the public. These guys have lived their lives trying to be All Blacks. They know what it means when they get there." New Zealand have made three changes to their starting side, bringing back Conrad Smith at centre and Jerome Kaino at blindside flanker. They missed the first game through minor injuries and will replace their utility back Isaia Toeava and loose forward Liam Messam respectively. Openside flanker Tanerau Latimer will also make his first start allowing the loose forward combination to have more balance with the return of Kaino and shifting of Kieran Read from blindside flanker to No 8.
Adam Thomson played openside flanker last week but was ruled out with a broken hand, while Messam was No 8. Thomson, Read and Messam all played blindside for their Super 14 teams. For France, Nicholas Mas - a late arrival after his Perpignan side won the French club final - will start at tighthead prop in place of Sylvain Marconnet. Should France win the match, it would be their third successive victory against the All Blacks after last Saturday's triumph and their 2007 World Cup quarter-final win.
Meanwhile, the growing trend of international teams using Tests to experiment with new combinations will be on display this weekend when Australia take on Italy in their second match at Melbourne. Both teams have made wholesale changes to their starting line-ups and openly admitted to using tomorrow's match as part of their long-term build-up to the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Australia, who have been highly critical of opponents selecting sub-strength teams, have replaced more than half their side - including their captain Stirling Mortlock - from the team who won last weekend's first Test in Canberra 31-8.