OPINION: The French-based 'All Blacks' who would beat France

Former All Blacks star Ma'a Nonu has been a key figure for Toulon since signing in 2015.
Former All Blacks star Ma'a Nonu has been a key figure for Toulon since signing in 2015. Photo credit: Getty

On paper, New Zealand's upcoming test series against France could turn out to be a bit of a fizzer.

The French have slipped to eighth in the world, they finished only fourth in the latest Six Nations tournament and several of their leading players will miss the first test, which clashes with the Top 14 club final.

Meanwhile, Steve Hansen's named a formidable 33-man All Blacks squad, with the biggest challenge being who misses out from a talent pool that's arguably never been bigger.

Perhaps New Zealand Rugby (NZR) could save France the trip, its players the embarrassment and our fans the expense by simply playing the series opener in Europe with a squad made up of entirely French-based Kiwis.

How would this line-up stack up against France?

Front row

Former All Blacks Jamie Mackintosh, Hika Elliot and Charlie Faumuina would make up a scarily big front row to pack down against.

Mackintosh, also known as 'Whopper', stands 1.93m, weighs 130kgs and has found a home at Pau, under the guidance of Kiwi coach Simon Mannix.

Kung fu expert and Chiefs centurion Elliot slots in between the two beefy props after turning out for the newly relegated Oyonnax.

The most impressive piece of the front row would undeniably be Toulouse's Charlie Faumuina. He's been capped 50 times by the All Blacks and is an absolute no-brainer for the side.

Faumuina is coming off his first season for French club, Toulouse.
Faumuina is coming off his first season for French club, Toulouse. Photo credit: Photosport

Locks

Experience - that's what you get with a lock pairing Jason Eaton and Josh Bekhuis.

Eaton has been a key figure in La Rochelle's rise in French rugby, making more than 70 appearances and captaining the side, not to mention his 88 appearances for the Hurricanes and 15 caps for New Zealand.

Southland legend Josh Bekhuis partners Eaton in the second-row. He's been with Lyon since 2016, after playing 100 Super Rugby games between the Highlanders and the Blues.

Back row

Top 14 Player of the Year Victor Vito heads an unusual back-row trio, joined by Tanerau Latimer and Luke Braid.

Vito has been a star in France since bringing up his 100th game for the Hurricanes in their 2016 Super Rugby final victory. He's been a regular feature for Eaton's La Rochelle and is an obvious choice for No.8.

Latimer is another to have put on the black jersey and has found success with Bayonne in France's second division. He has over 100 games of Super Rugby behind him and previously captained the Maori All Blacks.

Bordeaux's Braid is the only one of the three not to be capped by the All Blacks - brother Daniel made six appearances, dad Gary made two - but was always considered unlucky.

Vito's performances for La Rochelle saw him crowned Top 14 Player of the Year in 2017.
Vito's performances for La Rochelle saw him crowned Top 14 Player of the Year in 2017. Photo credit: Getty

Halves

Rugby's greatest first-five Dan Carter partners up with former All Blacks scrumhalf Tawera-Kerr Barlow.

If you went on form alone, Carter probably doesn't make the side - Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden are also plying their trade in France.

But it's Dan Carter - second to only Richie McCaw among those to have laced up the boots. His legacy was already well established before his big-money move to Racing Metro.

Kerr-Barlow would lead the side around park. He was forced to move abroad to the heavily Kiwi-influenced La Rochelle, after living too long in the shadow of Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara in the All Blacks set-up.

Midfield

Perhaps the greatest-ever centre pairing Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith reunite once more to terrorise the French defence.

After more than 100 games for both club and country, former Hurricanes second-five Ma'a Nonu made the switch to French powerhouse Toulon. He's since made more than 50 appearances for a side containing some of the world's best players.

You simply can't have Nonu in a side without buddy Conrad Smith. Unlike Nonu, he couldn't quite bring up the All Black ton, but with 94 caps, he gets a pass.

Smith is another Kiwi that has found success with Mannix's Pau.

Rokocoko and Carter have combined to lead Racing Metro 92 to the Top 14 semi-finals.
Rokocoko and Carter have combined to lead Racing Metro 92 to the Top 14 semi-finals. Photo credit: Photosport

Outside backs

Joe Rokocoko, Rene Ranger and Isaia Toeava make up an electrifying back three that would cause concern for any international rugby side, including the All Blacks.

New Zealand's second greatest try-scorer of the time with 46 - behind Doug Howlett's 49 - Rokocoko is lock for the left wing spot. He played 92 games for Bayonne, before moving to Carter's Racing Metro.

Ranger takes the right wing spot after making the move to France for the second time in his career. He's the classic case of 'what might have been', after bursting onto the scene, but never quite consolidating a black jersey.

Ranger's another Kiwi currently trying his luck with La Rochelle.

If Ranger's what might have been, Toeava represents what should have been. The 'Iceman' looked a potential world beater when he was first selected for the All Blacks, aged only 19 years, with not a single Super Rugby cap to his name.

Despite 35 appearances in black, he never lived up to that billing, but his talent and form for Clermont make him an obvious choice at fullback.

OPINION: The French-based 'All Blacks' who would beat France

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