All Blacks wary of France in year's last Test
RUGBY UNION: After the disaster against Ireland in Chicago and a tough return match in Dublin, the All Blacks hardly need to be warned about the threat their old nemesis France possesses.
Another potential red flag for Steve Hansen's men is that it's their last Test of the year - a traditionally tough one for the men who normally wear black but on Sunday morning (AEST) will be attired in a curious alternate strip: all black and white and zany angles.
They will almost certainly be on high alert already. They know France can be an unpredictable beast, but after the twists and turns of recent weeks, the All Blacks at least have some comfort in also knowing they are welcoming back Jerome Kaino to the No.6 jersey.
Kaino's last outing was as a lock at Soldier Field, a match in which he picked up a calf injury and turned in a disappointing performance in what is an unfamiliar position. One of his main issues wasn't the set piece, however, it was in open play, and in particular being held up by the Irish pack, which seemed to know exactly what he was doing and how to neutralise it.
For a 76-Test All Black who prides himself on his power, that would have hurt. But the lessons will have been learned as far as Kaino is concerned, and in the wake of the citings of Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa for alleged high tackles, the 33-year-old is the man who can ensure the All Blacks aren't gun shy as far as their defence is concerned.
His tackling around the ruck has been devastating this year, just as it was in October and November last year during the World Cup. On that night of nights in Cardiff against France, in a quarter-final no less, nearly every All Black had the game of their lives, but it was Kaino who was especially impressive, especially when putting his considerable shoulders into the opposition wearing an alternate strip of their own.
He will need to do the same at the Stade de France. The All Blacks must put all thoughts of match officials, apparent bias and penalty counts from their minds and rely on their instincts when they don't have the ball, and Kaino, alongside skipper Kieran Read, flanker Matt Todd and lock Brodie Retallick, is the man to lead the charge.
To a man the All Blacks talk about attitude when referring to defence. And in their final 80 minutes of the year, that attitude will be key. The day after their World Cup victory over Australia, Kaino told the NZ Herald of his thoughts going into the Test against France at the Millennium Stadium, which his side won 62-13.
"I knew the history that the All Blacks have with France in northern hemisphere World Cups and I just didn't want to be part of a team that fell to them in a quarter-final,” he said. "We wanted to dominate from the outset and that was my role as well, to set the tone from the first tackle to the first run. That was all I was thinking - to tackle everything in red.”