WELLINGTON, June 19 – France have one eye on the World Cup and the other on making history as they prepare for the second rugby Test here Saturday against an All Blacks side looking to save face.
Victory would make France the first team since their predecessors in 1994, and first in the professional era, to win a series in New Zealand and it will lay a solid foundation for their build up to the 2011 World Cup here.
But French coach Marc Lievremont set a cautious tone when he cooled celebrations following their 27-22 first Test triumph in Dunedin last weekend, saying the focus was on winning the series and not winning just one match.
Matched against the French is an injury-weakened and sorely wounded All Blacks side aching to set the record straight.
While France took Thursday off, as part of a measured build up to the Test, the All Blacks were put through a series of drills as they looked to rectify the shortcomings that saw them seriously exposed in Dunedin.
"The French were a step ahead of us last Saturday and we weren’t up for the challenge," admitted Jerome Kaino, who returns from injury to bolster the loose forwards, an area where the All Blacks were particularly outplayed.
"There’s been a lot of intensity (in training), a lot of focus on not having as many mistakes and putting pressure on decision makers to get out there and target the holes that they had because their defensive line was pretty good.
"The first lineout, the first scrum, are probably going to set the tone and also the first tackle."
Kaino is one of four changes to the All Blacks along with Conrad Smith, back at centre after recovering from a hamstring injury, openside flanker Tanerau Latimer and hooker Keven Mealamu.
France have made three changes with Maxime Mermoz coming in at centre while lock Sebastien Chabal and prop Nicolas Mas also get the nod.
At the heart of the French thinking is their preparation for the next World Cup in two years where they are drawn to meet the All Blacks in pool play.
"The World Cup will be very different, we know that, but at the moment to be touring this country against the best team in the world, it’s a good challenge for us," said French backs coach Emile Ntamack, a member of the victorious 1994 side.
"We are not on tour just to win one game. We are on tour to write the new page of the French book. For that, we need not just one game but maybe two."
The All Blacks will be determined to atone for the first Test loss in which they were missing 10 regular Test starters through injury.
Their tight five, including four Test veterans, were out-muscled, the loose forwards fell off tackles and the backs struggled to make the advantage line.
France "played the game the way they wanted it and we struggled to get any ascendancy", said Smith, who feels he is now able to stretch out with no sign of the hamstring strain that kept him sidelined last week.
"The team, as we’ve talked about all week, just have to set it up a little, bring an edge that we probably didn’t have on Saturday night," he said.
"You know how you can turn it round. Seven days later you get a chance to make up for it.
"You look at your set piece, you’ve got to have ascendancy there and then after that you’ve got to make sure you get front foot ball at the start.
"It’s rugby. There a lot of complexities but basically it’s a simple game."