France plot another famous All Black upset in Cardiff reunion
Eight years after upsetting hot favourites New Zealand in a famous quarter-final in Cardiff, France will be hoping to pull off another surprise next Saturday when they meet the same foes, in the same city, at the same stage of the World Cup.
Judging by the French players’ dismal showing against Ireland on Sunday, Les Bleus will face an even taller order this time when they take on the perennial World Cup favourites.
France’s 24-9 humbling by Ireland in their final Pool D game has cast serious doubts over their ability to beat the All Blacks as they famously did in the 1999 and 2007 tournaments.
But the French are never as dangerous as when they have their backs against the wall – and never more so than against New Zealand.
The most unpredictable team in world rugby, France are known to raise their game when facing the All Blacks, against whom they enjoy a win percentage of 22.72 – easily the best in the northern hemisphere.
“The history of the World Cup says everything can happen,” coach Philippe Saint-Andre told a news conference on Monday. “When you're French, it's not good to be favourites."
France beat the All Blacks 20-18 in the 2007 quarter-finals in Cardiff, eight years after coming from behind to secure a spectacular 43-31 semi-final victory against the same opponents at the 1999 World Cup.
All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick predicted next weekend's fixture will "spook" his country.
"Am I worried? A bit," Fitzpatrick told British newspaper The Sunday Times, adding that there are echoes from eight years ago because of New Zealand's easy run in the pool stage.
France have, however, lost their last nine tests against the world champions.
Saint-Andre was asked how previous achievements against the All Blacks could inspire France and he admitted that a few good memories would not be enough to beat New Zealand.
"(Captain) Thierry Dusautoir can talk about it (the 2007 quarter-final win) but we will need other ingredients," he said.
"New Zealand will go into this game with a lot of confidence, we're going to prepare in order to disrupt that confidence."
France struggled against Ireland in their first big test of the tournament, lacking ideas and dominated by the Irish forwards at the breakdown.
They dropped off the pace alarmingly in the second half against Ireland, overwhelmed by the aggression of their opponents and the passion of an Irish-dominated crowd under the Millennium Stadium's closed roof.
"We'll need more anger on the rucks," Saint-Andre said. "The rucks are about technique but it's also a matter of determination."
The key for France, however, might just be to relax in the hope of rediscovering the flair that has traditionally made them such an unpredictable team.
"If we don't rebel this week, we'll never rebel," said the French coach. “We must prepare like a commando unit. We must not think, we must just play rugby.”
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)