France recall Bastareaud, All Blacks select Fifita
France recalled Mathieu Bastareaud for the first time in two years and will start four new caps against the All Blacks in Paris on Saturday.
New Zealand plumped for Vaea Fifita on the blindside flank after first choice Liam Squire was too ill to play and veteran Jerome Kaino had to return home with a knee cruciate injury.
Bastareaud hasn’t played for France since the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Cardiff, where they were humiliated by the All Blacks 62-13. For his 40th cap, Bastareaud has been partnered with uncapped La Rochelle center Geoffrey Doumayrou.
“We’ve got some maturity in midfield with Mathieu, and some speed and ardor with Geoffrey, this is what we call a good balance,” coach Guy Noves said on Thursday. “Will it be enough? Let’s see.”
The other new starters were Toulon flyhalf Anthony Belleau, Clermont flanker Judicael Cancoriet, and Stade Francais lock Paul Gabrillagues. Two more uncapped players were in the reserves: Clermont prop Raphael Chaume, and Castres flanker Anthony Jelonch.
Belleau is paired with Antoine Dupont, the backup scrumhalf making his first start. Regular starter Baptiste Serin is in the reserves.
“Given their performances with their clubs since the start of the season, we wanted to see what they would be capable of as starters at this level,” Noves said.
He had three more uncapped players in his squad, choosing to play them against New Zealand Maori on Friday, or the All Blacks on Tuesday, as part of a French XV in Lyon.
Fifita made a big impression in his first major international, 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 mumps, and Damian McKenzie returns at fullback in a leap of faith.
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 is bolstered by the return 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.
France hasn’t beaten New Zealand in Paris since 1973 and, with as many as nine top-line players out with injuries, is thought to have little chance of ending that drought.
Coach Steve 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.”
France: Nans Ducuing, Teddy Thomas, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Yoann Huget, Anthony Belleau, Antoine Dupont; Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Judicael Cancoriet, Paul Gabrillagues, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Jefferson Poirot. Reserves: Clement Maynadier, Raphael Chaume, Daniel Kotze, Paul Jedrasiak, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Francois Trinh-Duc, Damian Penaud.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.