CARDIFF, October 16- Ma’a Nonu won a battle with Sonny Bill Williams for a midfield start in New Zealand’s quarter final against France as coach Steve Hansen called out his big guns for Saturday’s crunch match.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre caused his own upset by dropping midfield powerhouse Mathieu Bastareaud for the game at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
The match has reignited historical rivalries as France beat New Zealand in the 2007 quarter final at the same stadium. New Zealand in turn beat France just 8-7 in the final four years ago.
“The big boys have to step up to the plate and the team that does this the best will move through to the next round. It’s as simple as that,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said when naming his side on Thursday.
Captain Richie McCaw returns, having recovered from the leg injury that kept him out of the All Blacks final pool game against Tonga.
He is one of four world players of the year, along with Kieran Read, Dan Carter and Brodie Retallick in a side which boasts an impressive 1,295 Test caps in total.
Nehe Milner-Skudder won a contested wing berth in the powerful All Blacks side.
The selection of Nonu ahead of Williams was always going to be a close call as was choosing between Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo.
Wyatt Crockett will start at loosehead prop after Tony Woodcock’s campaign was ended by a serious hamstring strain in the All Blacks last pool match against Tonga.
– Grudge match -Amidst mounting tensions, Hansen said there are great relations between France and New Zealand “apart from the Rainbow Warrior” — the notorious sinking of the Greenpeace flagship by French agents in 1985.
He also had a dig at France’s Top 14 — the world’s wealthiest domestic rugby championship — saying it had made French rugby “dour”.
France called up Morgan Parra and dropped Bastareaud to the bench among three changes to their side for the clash.
Saint-Andre has handed starts to Parra, centre Alexandre Dumoulin and South Africa-born flanker Bernard Le Roux.
The coach, who will leave his job after the World Cup, is also looking for aggression.
“Against New Zealand we know that if we want to win we need to play on the front foot,” Saint-Andre said.
“We know that if we don’t play well we are back home on Sunday with our head on the floor.”
Parra comes in for Sebastien Tillous-Borde, who misses out on the match-day 23 altogether. South African-born Rory Kockott is named on the bench.
Tillous-Borde has been one of Saint-Andre’s key men, starting 10 of France’s last 13 Test matches. Parra was favoured under Saint-Andre’s predecessor Marc Lievremont.
But it will be only the third time Parra has linked up with veteran fly-half Frederic Michalak, who will retain kicking duties.
“Morgan starts, he’s a big competitor. We’ve decided to start him and we’re counting on his leadership skills, especially with the forwards,” said Saint-Andre, still smarting from the 24-9 defeat by Ireland last weekend that condemned France to their unwanted clash with the All Blacks.
“I expect first we get more ball than last week because the set piece wasn’t good.
“We need more ball and to use it and play rugby. Last week, we were 70 percent in defence and only 30 percent in attack.”
Captain Thierry Dusautoir is one of four survivors of the starting team that lost 8-7 to New Zealand in the 2011 final along with Parra, who then played fly-half, Nicolas Mas, a replacement this time, and Pascal Pape.
Dimitri Szarzewski was also involved as a replacement like this time.
Dusautoir also started in the famous 20-18 quarter-final win over the All Blacks in 2007, while Michalak and Szarzewski came on as replacements.
Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks started for the All Blacks in the 2011 final with Sonny Bill Williams coming off the bench. Carter and McCaw played in the 2007 match.