'We have 30 Zidanes' says France's Chabal
There is still more than a week to go before the sixth World Cup kicks off in Paris, so the participants are restricted to talking a good game.
If England, the champions, have good reasons to be silent — for one thing, they fouled up badly in Marseilles 10 days ago, for another they are still enjoying a pre-tournament break – two of the favourites, France and New Zealand are cranking up the volume.
According to Sébastien Chabal, the bearded French forward with an expression more ferocious than the fabled Medusa herself, the host nation are armed with "30 Zinedine Zidanes".
This cuts both ways. Zidane could play a bit, as sports followers of all persuasions would testify, but he also had a penchant for heading opponents as well as the ball. Should the Tricolore rugby team decide to follow the approach taken by Zidane in the World Cup final against Italy, all hell will break loose.
"We think a lot about winning the World Cup," Chabal said after helping his side to a comprehensive 34-7 victory over Wales in the last of the warm-up Tests at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday, "and I think we are in the right position to start the tournament. We have done everything we needed to do. Now, we just have to play the games.
"We are fit and we look good on the pitch, but we will have to play the games to know the truth. It was a huge event when France won the football in 1998. There were 10 million people in Paris and it was unbelievable. If we can do the same as the football team, then I think we will have the same support behind us.
"We won our three friendly matches and everyone will be ready for the start of the competition. It is good for our heads and for our confidence."
Meanwhile, the New Zealand outside-half Daniel Carter – a player almost as gifted as Chabal is frightening – could be heard waxing lyrical about his team's chances, albeit in a more understated fashion. "We are going out there to play extremely well, right from the first game," he said as the All Blacks headed for their latest camp in Corsica. "The preparation we have put into this World Cup has been immense. It has been an ongoing process for a couple of years – we have tried things that no other teams have ever tried, or thought of trying. That gives us real self-belief. We know the kind of rugby we are capable of playing."
Wales, preparing to travel across the Channel after two severe beatings in the space of three preparatory matches, were at least expressing some optimism on the fitness front yesterday. Gareth Thomas, who left the Millennium Stadium pitch on a stretcher at the weekend, had a total of 20 stitches inserted in three facial cuts but is not considered a long-term concern. Better still, the outside-half Stephen Jones is expected to return to training this week. Jones missed all three warm-up games after suffering a groin injury last month.
lSecond row forward Carlo Del Fava has been drafted back into Italy's World Cup squad, the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) said yesterday. The 26-year-old was replaced by Fabio Staibano because of injury concerns but has been given another chance in the 30-man squad after Staibano was deemed unfit.