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Sports

Read returns to lead New Zealand against France

media New Zealand skipper Kieran Read (left) with head coach Steve Hansen, who led the team to the 2017 Rugby Championship; Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen on Thursday announced nine changes to the starting side to face France on Saturday with skipper Kieran Read returning as Hansen played down suggestions of an understrength French team.

"France are an exciting team and playing France in Paris is one of the biggest challenges in rugby," said Hansen.

New Zealand began their tour of the northern hemisphere on 11 November in London with a 31-22 win over the Babarians in the Killik Cup match to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"This weekend is another opportunity for us to continue growing our standards, our game and our skill sets," added Hansen. "If we can do that and put in a complete 80-minute game, we'll go a long way to putting in a performance we can all be proud of."

The All Blacks, who will take on France at the Stade de France, have played Les Bleus 57 times with 44 wins, a draw and 12 losses. They met in Paris last year. New Zealand edged the encounter 24-19.

New Zealand play a second Test against France in Lyon on Tuesday before Tests against Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on 18 November and Wales in Cardiff on 25 November.

With several leading players injured and morale low following only three victories in eight Tests, France wing Yoann Huget rated his side's chance of winning at 10 percent.

"We've got to play well to build some momentum for the Six Nations tournament," he added. "We also got a chance to show our worth and get some prestige back against the world champions."

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