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Remember 2000 Ambush, Smith Warns All Blacks

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

Marseille, Nov 24 NZPA - It was nothing short of an ambush, All Blacks assistant rugby coach Wayne Smith recalls.

With the memories still raw of being mentally and physically dominated here nine years ago, Smith is determined the current side will be braced for any level of hostility against France on Sunday (NZT).

On a day when training suggested three potential changes to their side, with prop Neemia Tialata, flanker Jerome Kaino and winger Cory Jane likely to return, Smith said their state of mind was now vital.

In 2000, France's first test at the 60,000-capacity Stade Velodrome, the Todd Blackadder-led tourists never knew what hit them as the hosts won 42-33.

"It's hard to explain to these guys what it will be like. It's just a passionate experience. the crowd had an influence on our guys and we were unprepared for that," Smith said.

"We'd beaten France in Paris a week before which was a big win, but we weren't in the hunt.

"As a coach I felt really vulnerable that day. I could have sent another three men out and had 18 on the field and we still would have struggled. It was tough."

It remains the All Blacks' only test against France at Stade Velodrome. They returned once, for a 76-14 canter against Italy in the opening match of their ill-fated 2007 World Cup campaign.

France have only lost one of their nine tests at the home of the port city's major sporting team, Olympique Marseille, against Argentina in 2004.

Smith recalled his 2000 team, which included Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall and Anton Oliver, were beaten before the opening whistle.

"I started feeling it from the Thursday. We went to a mayoral reception and the French team disappeared. They went into the mayor's office and you could hear him screaming at them from there.

"We were just standing around talking to the French people and they were in there getting a grilling.

"It was pretty apparent by then we were going to be up against something special.

"We went to the captain's run next day and they'd locked the place up and we couldn't get in. I remember (former manager Andrew Martin) had the caretaker up against the wall by his throat, telling him he was going to rip his head off if he didn't let us in. You just knew that it was going to be tough."

Smith felt the atmosphere on Sunday would be more hostile than any of the bigger arenas on their European tour to date; Millennium Stadium, San Siro and Twickenham.

He would address the team this week to remind them of the 2000 experience.

"It's not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you've just got to experience it. If you're forewarned at least you can prepare for it."

Smith said the match was clearly their defining test of the year, after a defeat to France in Dunedin in June and the disappointment of not winning the Tri-Nations after three defeats to South Africa.

Under brilliantly sunny skies, the All Blacks split their training between astroturf and the patchy main ground at Stade Jean Bouin where they were based in 2007.

On evidence of the team run, it appeared Tialata would return for Owen Franks, Kaino for Adam Thomson and Jane for Zac Guildford, which meant a likely full-strength lineup after some mix-and-match sides in recent weeks.

Second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu was the only minor injury concern as he sat out the session due to a haematoma on his thigh suffered against England. Luke McAlister trained in his place but Nonu wasn't in doubt, Smith said.

"We decided to rest him (Nonu) but I expect he'll be fine."

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