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Laulala out to prove All Blacks worth against France
November 11, 2017
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PARIS: New Zealand Prop Nepo Laulala will have something to prove when he lines up against France on Saturday after being told last year that he would never play rugby again.

The 26-year-old tighthead suffered a knee injury in 2016 that not only interrupted his 10-Test international career but almost brought the curtain down on his playing days.

Now the Samoan-born Chiefs front-rower is determined to show he’s a better player than he was before his injury.

“It was really tough, I actually didn’t really think I’d get back here,” he admitted.

“It didn’t really help because my doctor told me he didn’t think I’d play again. “I had to get over that. It was a tough road back.”

But the desire to silence the doubters was one of the main motivating factors.

“It was a massive injury, I think it was one of worst he (the doctor) has ever seen -- that’s not really a thing you want to hear from your doctor.

“I wanted to prove that I could make it back; I wanted to prove that doctor wrong; I was really angry after that; after that I never saw him again!”

‘Reasonable athlete’

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen believes Laulala will bring mobility and athleticism to his pack against the French, who the All Blacks beat, 24-19, a year ago in the same stadium.

“He’s a reasonable athlete — you can only use the word reasonable for props, you can’t say they’re great athletes in the sense of running around the park,” said Hansen.

France coach Guy Noves caused a stir on Thursday when naming a new and young half-back pairing in 20-year-old scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who will make his first start after just three substitute appearances, and 21-year-old debutant fly-half Anthony Belleau.

But he also raised a few eyebrows by bringing heavyweight centre Mathieu Bastareaud back into the starting XV for his first cap since the World Cup, when he was part of the team humiliated 62-13 by New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Wales face Australia

Warren Gatland is banking on increased finesse behind the scrum to help end Wales’s desperate run of defeats by Australia when the two sides meet at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Saturday.

This week marks the New Zealander’s tenth anniversary as Wales coach and Gatland would love nothing more than for the side to halt a run of 12 successive losses to the Wallabies, with the last Welsh win against Australia back in 2008.

For much of his time in charge, Wales’s back-play has been built on bursting through the gainline, with inside centre Jamie Roberts the crash-ball carrier of choice — the so-called ‘Warrenball’ approach.

‘Defence the key’

Gatland, returning to Wales duty after overseeing the touring British and Irish Lions 1-1 series draw against world champions New Zealand in June and July, added: “This team is a reward for some players. Aaron has proved himself over the last year and Josh Navidi has played everywhere across the back-row.

“Owen has a pretty good record at centre. Everyone has talked about his attack, but what is going to win Saturday’s game is defence.”

“Australia have a massive midfield and two direct wings so I don’t think they’re going to be too worried about throwing the ball around. I think they’re going to be pretty direct.

Agencies

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