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Aaron Smith drops to the bench as All Blacks ring the changes for France clash

TJ Perenara will come in to replace the out-of-form scrum-half in Paris this weekend.

TJ Perenara starts ahead of Aaron Smith at scrum-half.
TJ Perenara starts ahead of Aaron Smith at scrum-half.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

AARON SMITH HAS been dropped as the All Blacks shake up their backline for Saturday’s Test against France in Paris, with TJ Perenara taking over at scrum-half in their “best possible” side.

Only fly-half Beauden Barrett and wing Julian Savea retained their positions in the backs from the side that beat Ireland 21-9 in last week’s bruising encounter in Dublin.

Most of the changes in the side named on Thursday are injury influenced, with Israel Dagg moving to full-back for the injured Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty returning to inside centre, pushing Anton Lienart-Brown out one position with Waisake Naholo starting on the right wing.

“When it came to selecting this side, we had to make some changes because of injuries, but we also looked to pick the best side possible for what we think will be a titanic battle against the French,” coach Steve Hansen said.

“It was a very physical match in Dublin on the weekend so we have looked to get this week’s preparation spot-on, both mentally and physically, as we know France will also be looking to impose themselves upon us come Saturday night.”

The only two changes in the forwards are down to injury, with Matt Todd taking over from Sam Cane in the number seven jersey while a fit again Jerome Kaino returns as blindside flanker.

But Smith, widely acclaimed as one of the best scrum-halves in the world when on form, has been demoted to the bench. He has struggled on this tour in his return to international rugby after being publicly humiliated following a liaison with a woman in an airport restroom.

After that incident, he did not play in Tests against South Africa and Australia to keep out of the public gaze, and he appears to be down on confidence since his return on the end-of-year tour.

The reappearance of Crotty was expected after he recovered from the hamstring injury that saw him limp off the field during the 40-29 loss to Ireland in Chicago at the start of the tour to end to the All Blacks’ 18-match winning streak.

Rieko Ioane is named on the bench as the outside back replacement with Malakai Fekitoa, who scored two of the three All Blacks tries last week, suspended for a head-high tackle against Ireland.

The All Blacks have scored 538 points and 77 tries this year, trailing their best of 602 points and 81 tries in 2003 and 594 points and 80 tries in 2007.

New Zealand (v France)

15. Israel Dagg
14. Waisake Naholo
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
12. Ryan Crotty
11. Julian Savea
10. Beauden Barrett
9. TJ Perenara

1. Joe Moody
2. Dane Coles
3. Owen Franks
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Matt Todd
8. Kieran Read (captain)


16. Codie Taylor
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Scott Barrett
20. Ardie Savea
21. Aaron Smith
22. Aaron Cruden
23. Rieko Ioane

– © AFP 2016

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