Hansen backs wing Ioane to take flight against France

New Zealand's Rieko Ioane celebrates as he scores a try against South Africa in the Rugby Championship in Cape Town last month. His red-hot form of nine tries in 10 Tests has convinced All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to pick him over Julian Savea in th
New Zealand's Rieko Ioane celebrates as he scores a try against South Africa in the Rugby Championship in Cape Town last month. His red-hot form of nine tries in 10 Tests has convinced All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to pick him over Julian Savea in the starting XV.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen tipped flying wing Rieko Ioane to demonstrate to French fans in today's Test match just why he has ousted Julian Savea from New Zealand's starting XV.

Savea has scored 46 tries in 54 Tests - the best strike rate of the top 10 New Zealand try scorers of all time. But Ioane himself is in record-breaking form, with nine tries in 10 Tests. And Hansen said on Thursday the French will find out just why Ioane is so highly thought of.

"He's quick - really fast - his work ethic and he's scoring tries," he said when asked what has pushed the 20-year-old ahead in the pecking order.

The World Cup-winning coach did not rule out Savea making a return to the All Blacks but said that a change of attitude was needed.

"He's not playing well enough, that's why he's not in the team," he said. "He's lost his enjoyment for the game a little bit, I think, and the guy (Ioane) that's playing in his position - you'll know a bit more about him after the weekend I should imagine - he's pretty good."

New Zealand prop Nepo Laulala will also have something to prove at the Stade de France after being told by a doctor last year that he would never play rugby again. The 26-year-old is determined to show he is an even better player than he was before a knee injury last year.

"I actually didn't really think I'd get back here," he admitted. "It was a tough road back."

Hansen believes Laulala will bring mobility and athleticism to his pack against the French, whom the All Blacks beat 24-19 a year ago at the same stadium.

France coach Guy Noves caused a stir on Thursday when naming a new and young half-back pairing in scrum-half Antoine Dupont, 20, and fly-half Anthony Belleau, 21.

He also raised a few eyebrows by bringing heavyweight centre Mathieu Bastareaud back into the starting XV for his first cap since the World Cup, when he was part of the team humiliated 62-13 by New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

"When you have, I think, 18 players injured, you take into account the form and the physical preparation - we didn't have any other options than these," said Noves.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'Hansen backs wing Ioane to take flight against France'. Print Edition | Subscribe