Rugby: NZ's Leuluai set to face France

Former Wigan scrum-half Thomas Leuluai looks set to win his 31st cap for New Zealand against France in Avignon on Friday as the World Cup holders look to book their place in the quarter-finals.

Thomas Leuluai

The 28-year-old, who can also play stand-off and hooker, missed the Kiwis' warm-up match against the Cook Islands and Sunday's opening group B match against Samoa with a groin injury but is now fit and was among the squad as they flew out of Liverpool to Nice on Monday morning.

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney had his first-choice half-back pairing of Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson and regular hooker Issac Luke in action in their 42-24 win over the Samoans at Warrington but plans to give all 24 members of his squad a run-out before the quarter-finals.

The Kiwis play the French in Avignon before meeting Papua New Guinea in Leeds on Friday week and Leuluai, one of five survivors from their 2008 World Cup-winning team, will get a chance to play himself into contention for a place on the bench ahead of the knock-out stages.

"Tommy ran yesterday and he's been feeling good the last few days," Kearney said.

"He could possibly have played on Sunday but he'll be a definite starter either on Friday or next week.

"We have the luxury in having the personnel that we do in the halves area in Shaun and Kieran and obviously Thomas plays through the halves and dummy half. We'll see what best fits the game on Friday and make a decision from there."

Kearney admits several players put their places in the side at risk after they conceded five tries to Samoa.

Centre Bryson Goodwin could be one to pay the price after New Zealand's left edge was exploited by Samoa's BJ Leilua.

"I think that will be certainly an area of improvement for us this week," Kearney added. "In saying that, Leilua is a fair player.

"We had Jason Nightingale, Greg Eastwood, Ben Matulino, guys of that nature, sitting on the bench and they'll definitely be playing next week. After last night's performance, I hope that lights a fire under a few of them so they put their best foot forward next week."

Alex Glenn, Krisnan Inu and Kevin Locke were the other players unused in the holders' opening game while Kearney will check on the fitness of two-try winger Manu Vatuvei and prop Frank-Paul Nu'uausala after they picked up knocks against the physical Samoans.

"Manu had a bit of a sore ankle but he carried on the match and I thought Frank-Paul was concussed but he looked alright so we've pulled through that okay," Kearney said.



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