New Zealand rugby’s fortress at Eden Park was described by French captain Thierry Dusautoir as ‘the best place in the world to play rugby’ on Friday but winning there is elusive.
French hopes haven’t been helped on Saturday as 100 years of rugby at the ground are celebrated in the first of the three-Test series.
The centenary has given the All Blacks extra cause to defend their proud record of not having lost there since 1994.
French coach Philippe Saint-Andre was a member of the last team to win in Auckland and so far as new All Blacks captain Kieran Read is concerned, there won’t be any more French men added to the victor’s list this time around.
Read didn’t realise it was a centenary until he saw the commemorative jersey the New Zealand team will wear on Saturday night.
“It’s pretty awesome to be wearing the jersey to commemorate it for rugby and cricket as well,” he said.
The ground had always been a special place for him when growing up in the region.
“It holds a lot of significance for myself. It will be great to have my family here as well to see me. It’s an awesome occasion.”
Eden Park was where he saw his first All Blacks Test, in 1998 against England, and when Counties were part of the Blues franchise he had seen several of their games, and was especially watchful of massive wings Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri, both of them from the Counties Manukau union.
Read was happy with the preparation the home team had put into the game.
“The boys have come together really well and I’m looking forward to tomorrow night,” he said at the captain’s run on Friday.
“The expectations will be that we turn up. It’s the first Test and we need to get it right. No excuses from our point of view, we will be looking for a really good performance,” he said.
Read said his preparations changed a little as captain. He had to think about a few things more than he normally would.
“It hasn’t really affected me as a player. I just want to do my role and do it exceptionally well,” he said.
There was always the prospect of being kept on his toes by one of the great players of French rugby who is captaining the visitors, loose forward Dusautoir.
“You always look at opposition players, and captains, and you always want to test yourself against them, so it is awesome to be playing against a guy like Thierry,” he said.
The All Blacks have been heavily accenting their respect for France, and their ability to be one of the sides in the world capable of upsetting the New Zealanders when least expected.
“We always respect the French and expect them to be on their game every Test. We know they have been sitting in wait for a long time for this and we certainly expect a big challenge,” he said.
The All Blacks were anticipating a tough challenge up front, especially at the scrum.
“They have been working away on their scrum and it is always their biggest threat, so we will expect it to come from there,” he said.
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