Aaron Smith dropped from All Blacks

by AFP

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.

"I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to know that Nuggy (Aaron Smith) has struggled since he came back," said the 2016 Coach of the year.

"In that first game he obviously hadn't played for a while. The second game against the Italians he was better and he was better again against Ireland but team comes first and TJ's taken that opportunity and played really well and we feel he deserves a start so he is going to get one.

"It is right for the team. We could have given Nuggy the opportunity and he has been through a tough time and clearly it has knocked his confidence a bit. He is coming back slowly. You can see it in him and this week in training he has been good.
"What he's been through has been pretty touch for any person but to be in the limelight as he is and have to deal with all that along with his partner it has been horrifically tough.

"We know he is a quality player but confidence is a very important ingredient to any sports person and he has obviously taken a knock there. Give him time and he will come back in. I'm sure he'll do the job for us when he's asked to and then get a break like the rest of us and 2017 will be a new year."

Most of the changes in the side named 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.

Jerome Kaino now at full fitness. Photo: Getty ImagesBut 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 shock 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.


All Blacks team to play France

1. Joe Moody

2. Dane Coles

3. Owen Franks

4. Brodie Retallick

5. Samuel Whitelock

6. Jerome Kaino

7. Matt Todd

8. Kieran Read - C

9. TJ Perenara

10. Beauden Barrett

11. Julian Savea

12. Ryan Crotty

13. Anton Lienert-Brown

14. Waisake Naholo

15. Israel Dagg


16. Codie Taylor

17. Wyatt Crockett

18. Charlie Faumuina

19. Scott Barrett

20. Ardie Savea

21. Aaron Smith

22. Aaron Cruden

23. Rieko Ioane