New Zealand named an unchanged starting lineup to face France in the Oct. 23 Rugby World Cup final in Auckland as it seeks to end a 24-year title drought.
Adam Thomson returns from injury to take the loose forward’s spot on the replacements’ bench in the only change to the 22-man squad that beat Australia 20-6 in the semifinals. He takes over from Victor Vito.
“Adam Thomson’s played big Test match football so he’s had that experience,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said at a news conference in Auckland. “He played against the French in the first round and played well so he’s got more of a track record of playing in internationals at this level. It’s just that one of the guys has been here before.”
Top-ranked New Zealand, which won its only world championship in 1987, is on a 26-match winning run at Auckland’s Eden Park, including a 37-17 victory over the French in their Sept. 24 Pool A meeting. France was the last team to beat the All Blacks at the stadium in July 1994.
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will combine with blindside flanker Jerome Kaino and No. 8 Kieran Read in the back row for a record 21st Test, one more than the trio of McCaw, Rodney So’oialo and Jerry Collins.
They’ll go up against a French trio of Thierry Dusautoir, Julien Bonnaire and Imanol Harinordoquy that Henry described as “world class.”
No. 8 Harinordoquy was voted man of the match in France’s upset of England in the quarterfinals, while open-side flanker Bonnaire took the honor in the 9-8 semifinal win over Wales. Blindside flanker Dusautoir, who also captains the team, was one of the six players shortlisted for the International Rugby Board’s 2011 Player of the Year award two days ago.
Two-time runner-up France advanced to the knockout stages after back-to-back losses to the All Blacks and Tonga in the pool phase. It’s the first time a team has reached a World Cup final having lost two matches at the tournament.
“This French team, we’re not sure who’s going to turn up,” Henry added. “They’re enjoying the underdog tag, but we think they’re a pretty good rugby team with some outstanding players.”
France coach Marc Lievremont, who two days ago announced an unchanged starting lineup for the third straight match, named his seven bench players today. Damien Traille was recalled to replace Cedric Heymans in the only change.
Traille, who can cover several backline positions, hasn’t featured at the tournament since being taken off at half time of France’s 20-point loss to New Zealand last month.
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Adam Thomson, Andy Ellis, Stephen Donald, Sonny Bill Williams.
FRANCE: Maxime Medard, Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Maxime Mermoz, Alexis Palisson, Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili, Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Lionel Nallet, Pascal Pape, Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Fabien Barcella, Julien Pierre, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Francois Trinh-Duc, Jean Marc Doussain, Damien Traille.