Perenara ahead of Smith at No 9 for All Blacks vs France
PARIS (AP) — TJ Perenara will start at scrumhalf ahead of regular Aaron Smith for New Zealand, while France brought in Camille Lopez for Jean-Marc Doussain at flyhalf for their rugby test this weekend.
Smith was regarded as the best in his position in the world only months ago but has struggled to recover his best form since his return from a two-match disciplinary suspension. Perenara has been promoted to the starting XV in his place in the hope of adding stability to a struggling All Blacks backline.
In other changes to the starting lineup that beat Ireland 21-9 in Dublin last weekend, Ryan Crotty returns from injury at inside center to renew his midfield partnership with Anton Lienert-Brown.
Israel Dagg moves from winger to fullback to replace the injured Ben Smith, and Waisake Naholo takes Dagg's place on the right wing. Lienert-Brown moves out one place to outside center, replacing the suspended Malakai Fekitoa, and youngster Rieko Ioane joins the bench to provide cover in the outside backs.
Among the forwards, Matt Todd takes over at openside flanker from Sam Cane, who is injured, and Jerome Kaino returns from injury on the blindside flank.
Saturday's test at the Stade de France is the All Blacks' 14th and last in 2016. They have won 12 and lost one of their tests to date, suffering a single, historic, loss to Ireland.
Perenara's promotion was inevitable after Smith's poor form in New Zealand's two tests against the Irish. He was replaced early in both matches as the All Blacks lost the test in Chicago 40-29 and narrowly won the rematch. In both tests, Perenara steadied the team when he took the field.
Crotty's return also solves a midfield issue, restoring the best of the All Blacks' available combinations.
"We looked to pick the best side possible for what we think will be a titanic battle against the French," coach Steve Hansen said. "They've improved immensely since the Rugby World Cup when we last played them."
In that quarterfinal just over a year ago, New Zealand ran in nine tries to humiliate France 62-13.
Doussain started last weekend in the 25-23 loss to Australia after Francois Trinh-Duc was ruled out with a broken arm. Lopez had a chance to win that match in injury time, but missed a 35-meter dropped goal attempt.
Lopez made the squad for the first time since the 2015 Six Nations, ahead of Jules Plisson.
His partnership with scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud is the seventh halves pairing selected by France coach Guy Noves in his 10th match in charge.
Noves kept faith with Fiji-born wingers Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci, who both impressed against the Wallabies. Diminished by a foot problem, fullback Scott Spedding paid the price for some poor choices during that match and made room for Brice Dulin.
There was only one change in the forwards, with loosehead prop Xavier Chiocci given the nod ahead of Cyril Baille.
France: Brice Dulin, Noa Nakaitaci, Remi Lamerat, Wesley Fofana, Virimi Vakatawa, Camille Lopez, Maxime Machenaud; Charles Ollivon, Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Yoann Maestri, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Uini Atonio, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Xavier Chiocci. Reserves : Camille Chat, Cyril Baille, Rabah Slimani, Julien Le Devedec, Damien Chouly, Baptiste Serin, Jean-Marc Doussain, Gael Fickou.
New Zealand : Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino, Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Rieko Ioane.