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Smith dumped for French clash, Perenara in

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 24/11/2016 Angelo Risso

All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara has pinched troubled star Aaron Smith's starting No.9 jumper for Saturday's Test against France.

Rated by All Blacks coaches as the best halfback in the world, the 28-year-old Smith has struggled for form following an indiscretion in a Christchurch Airport toilet two months ago.

The Highlanders gun missed his side's final Rugby Championship fixture and third Bledisloe after the incident went public, before a lukewarm return in the All Blacks' loss to Ireland.

An improved performance the following week in Rome then made way for another lax display in last week's Dublin revenge mission.

Having already knocked-on twice and thrown several errant passes, Smith was sent to the sin bin for repeated ruck infringements in the 17th minute.

He was ultimately hooked for Perenara before the hour mark, and will now start on the pine in Paris.

Head coach Steve Hansen said the off-season had come at just the right time for Smith, who can now de-clutter his mind and return to Super Rugby recharged.

"I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist, Aaron's struggled since he's come back," Hansen said on Wednesday.

"He's been through a tough time, clearly it's knocked his confidence a bit, but he's coming back slowly."

Elsewhere, injuries and suspensions have forced Hansen to tinker with the line-up that conceded just three penalty goals to Ireland in Dublin.

Israel Dagg will slot into his favoured fullback role in place of Ben Smith, who broke his finger last week, while Waisake Naholo will take Dagg's place on the right edge.

Hansen expected the 28-year-old Crusader to provide composure and leadership in the All Blacks vice-captain's absence.

Also absent is openside Sam Cane, cleared of a dangerous tackle citation on Tuesday but nevertheless crocked with an ankle injury.

Crusaders No.7 Matt Todd has been preferred over Ardie Savea in the run-on side, with the Hurricanes livewire remaining on the bench.

Not so lucky at his disciplinary hearing was centre Malakai Fekitoa, who will serve a one-match ban for a high tackle on Irish winger Simon Zebo.

The returning Ryan Crotty will slot in at second-five, with young gun Anton Lienert-Brown switching midfield positions.

Blues stalwart Jerome Kaino also reclaims his blindside role after missing last week's win with a minor calf strain, pushing out Liam Squire.

"It was a massive Test against Ireland, physically one of the hardest Tests we've had in my time being involved with the All Blacks, and that's a few years," Hansen said.

"We need to front up with the same mental edge as we did in Dublin.

"This is a good French side, and if we get comfortable, we'll get smacked."

ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read (c), 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.

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