Special moment for All Blacks captain Read
Auckland's Eden Park holds a special place in the memory of All Blacks captain Kieran Read.
The 27-year-old No 8, who has been named to lead the side in the absence of Richie McCaw, watched his first test match there. Against England in 1998.
As a young fan growing up in the Bombay Hills about 50 km south of Auckland, he also came to watch rampaging Counties-Manukau wingers Joeli Vidiri and Jonah Lomu help the Auckland Blues to successive Super Rugby titles in 1996 and 1997.
In 2011, he was a member of the All Blacks side that held on to beat France 8-7 and win the World Cup.
On Saturday, Read will lead his country out for the first time on home soil - he first captained the team last November in Italy - against a French side that is in the process of rebuilding ahead of the 2015 World Cup in England.
"It's a massive honour," Read told reporters on the sidelines of the ground on Friday. "And especially to be here at Eden Park. It holds a lot of significance for myself.
"It will be great to have my family here as well to see me. It's an awesome occasion."
The No 8, who moved south to Canterbury after high school and "has switched allegiances" to his adopted province and Super Rugby side, has long been tipped as an All Blacks captain and is expected to replace McCaw when he retires.
McCaw's six-month sabbatical from top-flight rugby, which finishes at the end of June, has allowed coach Steve Hansen to continue to groom Read as part of his rebuilding plans ahead of the All Blacks' World Cup defence in England.
Read, however, said he felt there had been little change in his routine this week as he prepared to face France, other than "a little bit more thinking" about the tactics and how to react in certain match situations.
"There have been slight differences certainly but... it hasn't really effected me as a player on the field. I just want to do my role and do it exceptionally well," he said.
One perceived advantage for Read's home captaincy debut is they face an inexperienced France side who have been disrupted by the late arrival of eight players that played the French club final, though none were selected for the Eden Park match.
The French also finished last in this year's Six Nations and their chances against the All Blacks for the series, which also includes games in Christchurch on June 15 and New Plymouth on June 22, have been largely dismissed by their media and fans.
Thierry Dusautoir's side, however, have a habit of upsetting the odds after they have been written off.
On their last tour of New Zealand in 2009, when they faced a similar staggered arrival of the team due to club commitments, they managed to beat the All Blacks 27-22 in Dunedin then narrowly lost the second test 14-10 in Wellington.
During the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, the All Blacks beat them 37-17 in pool play - they also lost to Tonga in their final pool match yet still made the final - and were dismissed by pundits beforehand and Read was quick to point that out.
"We always respect the French and expect them to be on their game every test," he said.
"We certainly expect a big challenge.
"It's the first test and we need to get it right.
"There will be no excuses from our point of view (and) we will be looking for a really good performance."