Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Rugby World Cup: France haven't got a hope

A nation expects. A 'stadium' of over four million people, the boast made by organisers of the original New Zealand World Cup bid for 2011, will watch the All Blacks attempt tomorrow to deliver the Rugby World Cup to this country for the first time in 24 years.

Amid feverish expectation, New Zealand is thinking of absolutely nothing else.

All forms of the media are saturated with World Cup news, talk and opinions.

Ordinary people in the streets, in cafes and restaurants discuss only one thing.

This Rugby World Cup has captured the imagination of the 'Land of the Long White Cloud', more than any other sporting event in history.

All that stands between the New Zealanders and deliverance is a French squad that has been riven with dissent in its camp almost from the first day of this tournament, six long weeks ago.

The French have spectacularly misfired, hopelessly underperformed, squabbled like school children and played abjectly. They have even been beaten twice on their lurching journey to the final.

Yet because they are seen as New Zealand's 'bete noire' at World Cups, having put out the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007, they have assumed the role in some quarters of potential destroyers of New Zealand's dream.

However, In 1999, France had a team able to play rugby that would have beaten anyone; they do not, this time.

In 2007, New Zealand really only had themselves to blame for their early exit for they failed to perform on the day in Cardiff.

For me, there has been only one likely winner all along.

New Zealand have been the best team in the world for the last four years and I fully expect them to confirm their superiority tomorrow before a capacity 60,000 at Eden Park.

Quite by coincidence, this 2011 final brings together the two countries that contested the inaugural World Cup final, in 1987, also here in Auckland.

Then, New Zealand won 29-9 and something similar is a very likely outcome this time.

For New Zealand to fail there will have to be a mass collapse in form by up to a dozen of their players. Man for man, they are better than the French in at least 12 or 13 positions on the field.

What' s more, they have a complete, all-round game, a compelling mixture of speed, forward power, intensity in the set pieces and at the breakdown and a livewire back line.

The attacking threat of their back three, brilliant full-back Israel Dagg (pictured) plus wings Corey Jane and Richard Kahui, represents a lurking danger to the French defence out wide.

New Zealand do not have the injured Dan Carter but the 22 year-old Manawatu player Aaron Cruden has stepped into the breach with cool aplomb.

Against Australia in the semi-final, admittedly behind a commanding pack of forwards which always helps, Cruden showed admirable composure, and plenty of attacking intent.

For the New Zealand coaching triumvirate of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, the talking is all but over.

The preparations have been completed, the players know their roles down to the last iota of information.

Indeed, those qualities hallmark these All Blacks; they resemble a finely honed, smoothly efficient and powerful machine.

We are asked by some to believe that a French side that has given the impression for most of this World Cup that it didn't want to be here any longer than it had to, can suddenly find the inspiration to rise up and deny this nation its destiny.

It is stretching credibility to absurd proportions to believe France can finally win the Webb Ellis Trophy in this, their third final.

Confronting them is one of the toughest, best prepared, most determined yet attacking minded outfits the game has probably ever seen.

And if these talented All Blacks play with the verve and thrill of which they are eminently capable thereby sending a message to world rugby as to how this great game can really be played, then we should all share New Zealand's delight at their likely triumph.

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