Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Tension may rob Kiwis of champagne moment

They don't award the trophy until all the rugby's been played. In the rush to crown New Zealand many people have seemingly forgotten this sporting truth.

Certainly, the All Blacks would write off France at their peril.

The bookies have the Kiwis heavily odds-on - and so they should. But there is a chance, however small, that France could become the most outrageous party-poopers in the history of rugby union.

Indeed, the very fact Eden Park will be crammed with fans so ready to pop the bubbly after their first World Cup in 24 years should increase France's hopes.

Mr Unbearable Tension could be their 16th man.

Yes, if New Zealand get off to a fast start then it could be over. An early try or two would not only ease their nerves, but with all the in-fighting, all the criticism in the France camp, it would likely elicit a classic Gallic shrug followed by an equally classic "c'est la vie" submission.

We saw what the French are capable off in the manner they blew away England in the opening period of the quarter-final. That was a mere glimpse of the standard to which they will have to rise.

I wouldn't be surprised if the disorder has a galvanising effect on players who will suddenly turn to each other and say "come on, this is the opportunity of our lives".

These players compete in what I believe to be the toughest domestic league in world rugby and are used to squaring up.

They will have to do so like never before. The front five is key. They have to come out with a physicality which will unsettle New Zealand, if such a thing is possible. Look back over the tapes and they competed well in the first quarter in their pool match with New Zealand.

It will require something greater, but in their back-row of Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy and Julien Bonnaire, the impetus is right there. On their day, that three are as good as it gets.

France have talent in behind. Morgan Parra, a converted scrum-half at 10, is well capable of finding the corners. I don't go a bunch on their midfield, but the back three have the skill-set to cause problems.

If France can put some numbers on that scoreboard and rattle the home support, the pressure will inevitably heap on the players.

I'm still not convinced about this side. Yeah, Aaron Cruden did well against the Wallabies, but he is no Dan Carter.

France's challenge is just as straightforward as the All Blacks' and I have a hunch it is going to be close.

World Cup finals very rarely prove otherwise.

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