Rugby World Cup: All Blacks back Dalton Papali'i to fill No.6 void against France in tournament opener

Of all the questions that needed to be answered for All Blacks' team to face France in the Rugby World Cup opener, Dalton Papali'i is ultimately the big winner after being awarded the No.6 jersey by coach Ian Foster.    

As Foster and his fellow selectors gambled and went short in the forwards when picking their 33-man squad to head to France, injury to Shannon Frizell has bitten the All Blacks hard.    

Frizell, 29, had by far and away secured the spot on the blindside of the All Blacks' scrum, only for a hamstring issue to sideline him for Saturday's clash against the World Cup hosts. 

Dalton Papali'i trains.
Dalton Papali'i trains. Photo credit: Photosport

Scott Barrett at No.6 would have been a valid solution, only for injury to Brodie Retallick to see him needed in the second row alongside Sam Whitelock instead, while Samipeni Finau and Ethan Blackadder missed the squad altogether.   

But while Foster initially backed Luke Jacobson at No.6 in Frizell's absence, starting before making way after a red card to Scott Barrett against South Africa at Twickenham, Foster has turned to Papali'i for the Stade de France.   

Traditionally an out and out No.7, Papali'i's time in the All Blacks in recent years has been blocked by Sam Cane - the team's captain - playing in the same position.   

Now, though, those two will line up alongside each other, forming the loose forward trio alongside Ardie Savea.   

Papali'i's move to No.6 could be seen as a risk, the 25-year-old hasn't packed down on the blindside since the All Blacks' defeat to Ireland in Dunedin last year.   

In that time, Akira Ioane, Frizell and Barrett have all been picked at No.6, to varying degrees of success.   

Speaking after naming his side to face France, Foster outlined how giving Papali'i a run at No.6 against South Africa was in the plan, only for that to go out the window once Barrett was sent off for two separate yellow cards. 

Sam Cane and Dalton Papali'i.
Sam Cane and Dalton Papali'i. Photo credit: Getty Images

Against France, though, the coach has no doubts over Papali'i's quality against a powerful French forward pack.   

"We were going to play both those two in that position at Twickenham," Foster revealed. "That changed with the red card.   

"Dalts has played plenty of rugby this year. We've got a lot of faith in both of them.   

"We just feel, for this game, that way round will be good for us. It gives us the ability to have two guys whose instincts are at the ball.   

"But also, Dalts brings a pretty strong ball-carrying, and he's quick around the park. He's been a big part of our group over the last 18 months.    

"He's deserved it."    

Meanwhile, Savea is looking forward to lining up alongside both Papali'i and Cane, with the trio's intentions already outlined by their selection. '    

Savea and Papali'i have played together as a No.7 and a No.8, with Cane now added to that mix for good measure.   

"Dalts is Dalts," said Savea. "He puts his head down and he works. He doesn't say much, he just goes about his mahi. That's very good.    

"Skip's [Cane] doing his thing. So, it'll be good to play with the brothers, it's going to be exciting." 

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