All Blacks expect French counter-strike - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

All Blacks expect French counter-strike

By Daniel Gilhooly 11/06/2009 10:24:29 AM Comments (0)

The All Blacks have identified the counter-attacking class of an all-Toulouse back-three as a major threat in Saturday's first rugby Test against France.

Fullback Maxime Medard and wingers Cedric Heymans and Vincent Clerc have all starred this year for the French giants. Their willingness to strike from deep at club and international level has caught the eye of New Zealand assistant coach, Wayne Smith.

He believes the trio will be given licence to attack by coach Marc Lievremont, something unlikely to have happened when France were under his conservative predecessor Bernard Laporte.

"Under Lievremont, they've counter-attacked a lot more than they have in the past eight years of so," Smith said.

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

"You've got to kick well but you've also got to chase well.

"They're playing a different sort of game. Under him they move the ball a lot more, they're a lot more dangerous."

Medard has quickly emerged as one of the most exciting attackers in French rugby while the exciting Clerc is returning to French colours after more than a year sidelined with a knee injury.

The aggressive Heymans will play his 50th Test on Saturday, reprising the wing combination which started in France's 2007 World Cup quarter-final defeat of New Zealand in Cardiff.

Two other starters have been retained - flanker and captain Thierry Dusautoir and centre Damien Traille, who was full-back in Cardiff.

Forwards Sebastien Chabal and Dimitri Szarzewski were on the reserve bench of both teams.

A huge defensive effort and kicking game won the day for France in Cardiff but Smith is convinced a more visionary French side has come to New Zealand.

Even though rugby has changed vastly under professionalism, Smith believes it is still worth referring to France's stylish two-Test series sweep of New Zealand 15 years ago as a blueprint for what the tourists are capable of.

"You go back to the '94 series, they were magnificent," he said.

"They've always been able to do that but they've been a lot more structured in the past - certainly, since we've been playing them as a group of coaches.

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

Lievremont, whose 25th and final Test as a player was the 1999 World Cup final, succeeded Laporte after the veteran coach stood down following the 2007 World Cup.

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