June 6, 2018 / 8:59 AM / 4 months ago

Rugby - France looking to set the tone at All Blacks' Eden Park fortress

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Eden Park has been a graveyard for visiting rugby teams for over 20 years but France will look for a strong first-up performance on Saturday to try to catch the All Blacks off guard early in the series.

The All Blacks are riding an 11-test winning streak over the visitors and are unbeaten in their last 40 tests at the Auckland fortress since their 1994 upset by the French.

But injuries to lock Brodie Retallick and centre Sonny Bill Williams have offered a new-look France the glimmer of a chance of ending the losing streak against the world champions.

The All Blacks were held to a 15-15 draw by the British and Irish Lions in their last trip to Eden Park, after being beaten by the touring side in the second match at Wellington.

“If I remember in the Lions tour last year, the Lions played well in the second game against the All Blacks,” France flyhalf Anthony Belleau told local media.

“But for us, the first game is important, because it will set our tour and we will have two tests after that,” Belleau said.

“We’ll play the three test matches the same way, with the same focus and the same determination.”

France also have their concerns, with experienced centre Wesley Fofana to miss at least the opener with a knee injury.

The Toulon flyhalf Belleau made his test debut against the All Blacks in a 38-18 loss in Paris in November and has taken the number 10 jersey from the seasoned Francois Trinh-Duc.

France finished fourth in the Six Nations and will need to take all of their chances if they hope to upset the world champions, Belleau said.

“Personally, it’s a great challenge for me to play against the All Blacks,” said the 22-year-old.

“But it’s also an opportunity for us to have good games and try to defeat the All Blacks.

“We will try to play our best rugby. We know we’re not going to have many opportunities to score against the All Blacks and we have to be strong with our basics.

“It has to be defence first and any ball we’re able to use on attack or any time we’re able to recycle the ball, we have to take our chances and try to score.”

Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly

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