- New Zealand meet France in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Cardiff
- Saturday night’s 8pm kick-off is a rematch of 2007’s 20-18 upset by France
- Richie McCaw, returning for the All Blacks, led Friday’s captain’s run
- Steve Hansen’s side remain favourites to claim The Webb Ellis Cup
- Rugby World Cup 2015: CLICK HERE for all the latest news and more
Michael Gadd for MailOnline
Richie McCaw led New Zealand onto the Millennium Stadium on Friday night ahead of what will be the toughest, psychologically if not on paper, test of their Rugby World Cup so far against France.
For all the talk of a revolt against Les Bleus’ coach Philippe Saint-Andre, there is no denying the result of the last time these nations met at this stage in a World Cup quarter-final at this ground remains etched in the memories of the All Blacks and their rugby-mad countrymen.
So the sight of the legendary flanker, who was rested in their final group match against Tonga, powerfully striding out for their captain’s run under lights as they prepare for Saturday’s 8pm kick-off can only have been a welcome sight.
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw (left) speaks with head coach Steve Hansen on Friday evening in Cardiff
McCaw returns to the All Blacks line-up for their quarter-final against France at the Millennium Stadium
A reassuring sight for All Blacks fans as McCaw, who didn’t play against Tonga, strides onto the pitch
All Blacks prop Owen Franks (left) and flanker Richie McCaw (centre) have their game faces on at training
‘It’s exciting to be back here, when we came over we knew we’d be here for the quarter-final if we qualified,’ said McCaw.
‘If we are going to reflect back eight years ago, which is a long time, it was a disappointing day but then it has perhaps shaped what has happened in the eight years since.
‘Those days are the ones you learn a few lessons from.
‘I am grateful we get another opportunity to be in the quarter-final of a World Cup. It shows how tough quarter-finals are and that’s the way it should be.’
Failure is not an option for All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, an assistant to Graham Henry in 2007 when they famously led 13-3 at halftime before being dumped out of the tournament 20-18 and when they made amends by the narrowest of margins to beat them 8-7 in the 2011 final.
Eight years ago wasn’t the first time the French spoiled the Kiwi party, with memories of 1999 semi-final disappointment in which France won 43–31 still also fresh.
Hansen’s taking no risks in line-up for Saturday, with four players previous World Player of the Year winners – McCaw, Dan Carter, Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read.
A sore hip was the reason given for McCaw’s absence in the 47-9 romp over the Tongans, but while the All Blacks lose little with his replacement Sam Cane there was never a doubt they’d call back the veteran openside for his 146th cap.
Scrum-half Aaron Smith (right) shapes to feed half a scrum during a light run in Cardiff on Friday
Nehe Milner-Skudder reaches out to take a low pass after winning his place in the starting line-up for Saturday
Sonny Bill Williams (right) will be used off the bench with Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith preferred in the centres
The All Blacks huddle as they prepare to take on their World Cup bogey team France from 8pm Saturday
NEW ZEALAND VS FRANCE
Match: Rugby World Cup quarter-final
New Zealand: Smith; Milner-Skudder, Smith, Nonu, Savea; Carter, Smith; Crockett, Coles, Franks, Retallick, Whitelock, Kaino, McCaw (capt), Read.
France: Spedding; Nakaitaci, Dumoulin, Fofana, Dulin; Michalak, Parra; Arous, Guirado, Slimani, Pape, Maestri, Dusautoir (capt), Le Roux, Picamoles.
Referee: Nigel Owens
Kick-off: 8:00pm (ITV)
Date: Saturday October 18
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
‘All Blacks-French tests are always intense affairs and we expect this weekend to be no different,’ Hansen said.
‘We’re at the time in the tournament where 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. We can’t wait.’
Julian Savea, their top try-scorer with five in his three games, is back on the left wing for Waisake Naholo while Nehe Milner-Skudder wins his place on the right wing in a lethal back three with full-back Ben Smith.
Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith are back together in the centres, with Sonny Bill Williams to be used as an impact player off the bench.
Dan Carter had to watch from the sidelines as New Zealand won the final in 2011, but will be eager to play a key role from fly-half in them going back to back and makes his 110th All Blacks appearance on Saturday with Beauden Barrett his more than able back-up.
Kieran Read, one of four in the All Blacks starting XV to have won World Player of the Year, takes a lineout
Dan Carter starts at fly-half for the quarter-final with Beauden Barrett his more than capable back-up
New Zealand golfer Michael Campbell looks on from the stands during a New Zealand’s captain’s run
Conrad Smith takes a rest against the posts at the Millennium Stadium on Friday evening
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