Wins have been in short supply for Les Bleus so far this year, but France are determined to prove they can compete with the best when they take on world champions New Zealand in Paris on Saturday.
Taking on the All Blacks is a tough enough task at any time, but given France’s recent form, victory when the sides meet in Paris on Saturday seems an especially tall order.
Les Bleus head into the first of their series of autumn internationals having won one match in eight in 2013 and finished bottom in this year’s Six Nations for the first time since Italy joined the competition.
New Zealand, in contrast, are the current world champions and boast 11 wins out of 11 this year in a run that has included victory in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship for the second year running.
Furthermore, the All Blacks beat France three times in a row in home tests in June this year, including a 30-0 thrashing in Christchurch in the second test.
But France are nothing if not unpredictable, as evidenced two years ago when New Zealand thrashed them on home soil in a World Cup group stage match 37-17, only for the two sides to meet again in a final in which the All Blacks were forced to dig deep to scrape an 8-7 victory.
‘Not just sparring partners’
France coach Philippe Saint-André believes that his team is capable of such a performance again on Saturday and could even go one better and, with the home advantage, defeat the all-conquering All Blacks.
“We have no intention of being just sparring partners on Saturday," he said earlier this week.
"We are determined to show that we can play with them at their level, even defeat them. It is vital that our players believe in themselves, play with passion, with intelligence but above all else without holding back.
"The stats are all in favour of New Zealand, but we must show that we have the willpower to take them on and win this match."
Saint-André will use the match to try out his ninth different half-back combination since last year’s Six Nations in the shape of Scrum-half Morgan Parra and fly-half Rémi Talès.
Clermont's Parra, who has 51 caps for France, is aware of the size of the task ahead.
"If we're not at our maximum it's going to be difficult. Today the All Blacks have four months of playing together behind them, they know each other inside out,” he said.
‘When they're written off, that's when they're at their most dangerous’
Nevertheless, he is adamant victory is possible.
"They remain the best, because collectively they are very good, individually and technically they are very good but they're not unbeatable," said Parra.
"It all comes down to details, it's going to come down to little things, a pass, a moment of inattention defensively. And we have to jump on the occasion.”
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is also aware of the dangers of taking anything for granted when it comes to playing the erratic French.
"They're very unpredictable. You've only got to think back to the 2011 World Cup and everyone wrote them off and expected us to win by heaps (in the final), and they came out and played probably the best game they played all tournament," he said.
"When they're written off, that's when they're at their most dangerous I've found.
Following their encounter with the All Blacks at the Stade de France on Saturday, France next face Tonga in Le Havre on November 16 and then South Africa back at the Stade de France on November 23.
Date created : 2013-11-09