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Tiredness Factor Causes Henry Concern

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Graham Henry
Graham Henry

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

Marseille, Nov 25 NZPA - Keeping his All Blacks fresh and alert after a marathon rugby season is the major concern for coach Graham Henry after he named a full-strength side to face France at Stade Velodrome here on Sunday (NZT).

Henry made three predictable changes from the side who beat England 19-6 at Twickenham last weekend, with prop Neemia Tialata in for Owen Franks, flanker Jerome Kaino replacing Adam Thomson and winger Cory Jane replacing Zac Guildford.

While Kaino's selection duel with Thomson was the closest, most intrigue was on the reserves bench where openside flanker Tanerau Latimer edged out Thomson, and Luke McAlister joined Stephen Donald with no specialist outside back cover.

Second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu, who Henry expects will play despite a haematoma on his thigh, will cover wing, Jane will cover fullback and McAlister the midfield.

"Playing five tests in five weeks is a major challenge. It's probably been done before but I can't remember when," Henry said today.

"So it's important, if we can try, to get some freshness into the group; Luke McAlister and Tanerau Latimer are examples of that."

Bench hooker Corey Flynn also returned after missing the England match due to a hamstring strain.

Tialata and Jane were expected to return after being rested against England, with Henry saying Tialata was in the form of his life after a mid-year struggle with fitness, while Jane's seniority and recent form saw him edge out the impressive Guildford.

The 1.96m, 106kg Kaino was preferred to Thomson for his physicality, and for his fit with captain Richie McCaw and Kieran Read in combating the strong French trio of Julien Bonnaire, Fulgence Ouedraogo and skipper Thierry Dusautoir.

It will be Kaino's 25th test, and just his second against France after he played in the 14-10 win in Wellington in June.

The All Blacks were given today off to freshen up, with Henry and several players catching the bus to the historic city of Avignon with its Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) and famous bridge, Pont St-Benezet.

The only hitch was that a one-hour trip to get there became three hours as the team bus struggled to negotiate Marseille's traffic.

Henry hoped the day off would have refreshed his players who are looking to complete their five-test tour unbeaten against the Dave Gallaher Trophy holders, who beat them in June and also toppled South Africa 20-13 nearly a fortnight ago.

"There's no silver bullet for that situation. If you play five tests in five weeks and travel around the world in doing it, and backwards and forwards to the UK, it's a major," Henry said.

"I think the boys are feeling the effects of that now. Hopefully they've freshened up today and it's the last big test match of the year and they'll be able to give 100. It's not ideal."

Henry said the struggles of the Springboks and Wallabies, who both suffered defeats in recent weeks, showed how tough the northern hemisphere tours had become.

He agreed the result of Sunday's test at the rowdy, 60,000-capacity Stade Velodrome would define their season, which included three defeats to the Springboks.

"If we don't win on Saturday we've had an average year. If we do, it's been okay. Okay is better than average.

"To go through Europe and that test in Tokyo unbeaten would be a marvellous achievement."

The All Blacks have their final serious training run late tonight (NZT) while France continue their preparations at their training base outside Paris and do not arrive in Marseille until test eve.

All Blacks: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Anthony Boric, Tanerau Latimer, Andy Ellis, Stephen Donald, Luke McAlister.

 

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