World Cup - All Blacks not writing off French
Sat, 22 Oct 06:25:00 2011
Correcting mistakes of the past has been the mantra of the New Zealand team as they prepared for the rugby World Cup, and it is something the All Blacks have stuck ahead of the final against France on Sunday.
The All Blacks, consistently the best team in the world and so often pre-tournament favourites, have fallen short at each of the past five World Cups and are facing massive expectation from a rugby-mad country to win their second Webb Ellis trophy.
France have had a muddled campaign, not playing to a level that comes close to suggesting the country has won nine grand slams, and they lost 37-17 to the All Blacks and 19-14 to Tonga in pool play.
After racing to a 16-0 lead they held on to win their quarter-final against England 19-12, but then struggled to overcome 14-man Wales in the semi-final, which has prompted pundits to say they have no chance of winning the final - though the All Blacks do not share that opinion.
"This French team, we're not sure who's going to turn up, quite frankly," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said. "So we've got to prepare that they're going to be the best in the world.
"They've certainly got the individuals to do that, it's just whether they can produce that as a side.
"All the word is that they've prepared well and they're very focused and they're enjoying the underdog tag.
"They feel that they're not being considered in this final by a lot of people. We don't think that. We think they're a very good rugby team."
Henry is mindful of just how good they can be, having beaten New Zealand twice in the World Cup at times when no-one gave them a chance and has been hammering that into his players, who have all dismissed notions of a rout on Sunday.
In 1999, France overturned a 14-point deficit to blow the All Blacks off the field 43-31 in their semi-final, while in 2007 led by the brutal tackling of captain Thierry Dusautoir they poached a 20-18 victory in the quarter-finals.
"They've been slammed, been underrated and that's when the French play their best rugby, when their backs are against the wall," All Blacks inside centre Ma'a Nonu said.
"You know the last time the All Blacks won (the World Cup) was 1987. We've always tried to find ways to answer why we've fallen over, you know, where we play good one year and then when it comes to the World Cup we don't really make it to the end.
"People always say we peak too early and there have always been reasons why we haven't won in those years. ...(but) for us as players we're lucky that we're here and we want to take it on.
"I think this is probably our best chance and we want to take it."
Local and French media, apart from writing off the team's chances, have also highlighted apparent rifts between the players and outspoken coach Marc Lievremont, though how much of that is smokescreen and mind games by the man who played in the 1999 semi-final victory over the All Blacks is anyone's guess.
"Although this has been a more relaxing week we are well aware of the great opportunity we have been given - playing a World Cup final in New Zealand, such a great rugby country.
"Of course the pressure has increased but we have to be concentrating on the game."
Dusautoir was also aware of their path into the final -- they are the first team to lose two matches during the tournament to make the final game -- but that would have no bearing on the outcome.
"We didn't choose the easiest path to get here but we are here now and we intend to make the most of it," the French captain said.
"We are feeling a little nervous. This is a World Cup final, but we are delighted to be here.
"The desire is there, the anticipation is there... the most important thing is ...focusing on ...the match ahead."
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