New Zealand v France: Key battles

RICHIE MCCAW v THIERRY DUSAUTOIR

The two captains are among the most outstanding players of their generation. Quietly spoken leaders, the flankers stand out for their indefatigable approach to the game.

Leadership skills aside, they are also fearless in the loose, a constant threat to opponents at the breakdown.

Aged 34 and capped a record 145 times for the All Blacks, McCaw led his team to victory at the 2011 World Cup when they overcame France 8-7 in the final.

However, it was his opponent that day, Dusautoir, now 33, who won the man-of-the-match award.

The latter shot to fame in the shock 2007 World Cup quarter-final victory over New Zealand, making an incredible 38 tackles.

McCaw will be hoping his well-rounded team get enough front-foot ball that he will not be making that many today.

DAN CARTER v FREDERIC MICHALAK

Carter and Michalak have history dating back to a Test match in Christchurch in June 2003.

Twelve years of international rugby since has seen vastly different paths for two very different players.

Carter, capped 109 times by the All Blacks, is world rugby's highest points scorer, notching up 1,552 at an average of 14.2 per match.

Michalak has notched 436 points in 76 Tests while not always being handed the kicking duties by various French coaches.

Carter, excellent also in his out-of-hand kicking, is the more physical player, never shying away from taking on defences.

Michalak is often described as "mercurial" and his win-or-bust approach divides opinion.

With coach Philippe Saint-Andre encouraging his troops to "keep the ball and play rugby", Michalak should be at the heart of everything that the French can come up with against the world champions.

MA'A NONU/CONRAD SMITH v WESLEY FOFANA/ALEXANDRE DUMOULIN

On paper, the midfield pairings read like black and white. Nonu, 33 and capped 100 times, lines up with Smith, aged 34 and with 91 caps, for a record 60th time in an All Black jersey.

In blue, Fofana (38 caps) makes the acquaintance of Dumoulin (seven caps) for only the third time.

Saint-Andre has dropped barn-storming but one-dimensional Mathieu Bastareaud to the bench in an attempt to move away from crash-ball tactics.

"You wouldn't want to give him too much room. He will skin you as quick as look at you," was All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's assessment of Fofana.

Of Dumoulin, he added that the player was "one of the flairy guys".

Fofana is under no illusion what lies ahead of him and his midfield partner. "You have to attack them," he said. "If you let them play, you're dead. The more we win our one-on-ones, the easier it will be."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'New Zealand v France: Key battles'. Print Edition | Subscribe