June 14, 2018 / 6:55 AM / 9 months ago

Rugby - NZ stick, France twist as World Cup plans take shape

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Rugby World Cup planning has loomed into full view with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen opting not to tinker with his team for the second test against France in Wellington on Saturday while Jacques Brunel has made five changes to the visiting side.

Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Wales vs France - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Britain - March 17, 2018 France head coach Jacques Brunel before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

Hansen has made no secret of the fact that this year was about fine tuning selections and tactics ahead of their World Cup defence in Japan.

“At this time of the year, it’s the norm for us not to make too many changes,” Hansen told reporters on Thursday. “We’re trying to build who we are, bring together five teams into one, look at our game and try to build that.

“If we chop and change every week, history has told us that we get sloppy.

“As the season goes on, we’ll have to take some risks too. Those risks are about finding out if these guys are good enough to go to the World Cup.”

Showing faith in the same 23 players that won the first test 52-11 in Auckland, Hansen expected them to go out and seal the three-match series at Wellington Regional Stadium (0735 GMT) with a game to spare.

It took a while for the home side to crack the French in the series opener but they produced a blistering final 30 minutes to run in seven unanswered tries.

France coach Brunel, who was appointed last December, has also said he would use the tour of New Zealand to prepare for next year’s World Cup and has made five changes to the starting 15 from Auckland and dropped two replacements.

Coming into the side are loose forwards Kelian Galletier and Mathieu Babillot and fullback Ben Fall, who were unavailable for the first test because they arrived late in New Zealand after playing in the Top 14 final.

Toulouse centre Gael Fickou has come in on the wing for the injured Remy Grosso, suggesting Brunel is keen to get the multi-talented 24-year-old involved and see if he can develop in the position.

France number eight Kevin Gourdon expected the All Blacks to start quicker than they did in the first match.

“They’ll look to be better in the first half,” he told Stuff Media. “That’s because we performed well on defence and we gave them trouble so maybe they will be working on that.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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