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Aaron Smith rushed into starting line-up for All Blacks' clash with France

By Tom Vinicombe
Photo: Jeremy Ward / www.photosport.nz

Ian Foster has made 13 changes to the All Blacks match-day squad for their final fixture of the season against France in Paris.

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With the All Blacks forced into making 235 tackles against Ireland last weekend in the 14th game of the season, and the ninth of a 10-match tour, Foster has seen fit to refresh the side that came up empty-handed in Dublin.

Seven faces have been injected straight into the starting line-up, Dane Coles, Akira Ioane, Sam Cane, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Quinn Tupaea and George Bridge.

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Who stood out most for the All Blacks in their loss to Ireland?
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Who stood out most for the All Blacks in their loss to Ireland?

In the front-row, Coles slots in between Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala, with Codie Tayloy dropping out of the 23 altogether. The hooking spot on the bench is filled by Samisoni Taukei’aho while George Bower and Ofa Tuungafasi come onto the pine for Karl Tu’inukuafe and Tyrel Lomax.

The locking contingent remains unchanged from last weekend’s game, despite Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock both shouldering heavy workloads against Ireland in 80-minute performances. 21-year-old Tupou Vaa’i will provide cover from the bench and will hope that he sees some minutes off the pine this weekend.

The addition of Ioane and Cane to the loose forwards sees Ethan Blackadder and Dalton Papalii drop out of the 23 altogether while Ardie Savea holds his spot at the back of the scrum with Frizell in the reserves.

There’s a complete change-up in the halfbacks with Smith rushed straight into the starting role and Brad Weber clearing his concussion protocols to take his place on the bench. A head knock suffered by Beauden Barrett early in last week’s game means Richie Mo’unga will run out onto the park wearing the No 10 jersey while Damian McKenzie comes into the reserves.

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Injury has also forced a change in the midfield with Anton Lienert-Brown unavailable for the fixture. Instead, Quinn Tupaea will slot in at second five-eighth and Rieko Ioane remains at No 13.

There’s just one change to the outside backs from the game against Ireland with Bridge taking Sevu Reece’s spot on the left wing, Will Jordan remaining on the right and Jordie Barrett rounding out the side at fullback.

“It’s been an incredibly long tour but I’ve been delighted with how the players have handled it from a physical point of view,” Foster said. “They’ve given us everything and I couldn’t be more proud of the way they’ve handled the length of this tour.

“But we’ve had to manage the physical and mental load for the players, so have changed things up a bit for this final test to maximise the energy within the whole group. That’s not a reflection on the guys that haven’t been selected, it’s more a chance to bring some fresh players in, and that’s going to be vital for us.”

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Foster said All Blacks versus France Tests were always eagerly-anticipated clashes.

“There’s a mutual respect between our two countries built over years and years. Kiwis have always loved the way the French play, there’s a flair about them that we’ve always been drawn to … they have knocked us over in some pretty big moments in history.

“They are a young, formidable team building in confidence and they’ve been targeting this match so it’s a huge way for us to finish our Tudor Northern Tour.”

All Blacks: Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Akira Ioane, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, George Bower, Ofa Tuungafasi, Tupou Vaa’i, Shannon Frizell, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, David Havili.

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