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Kicking will be the key against Kiwis: Laporte

By Gavin Mairs

New Zealand's blistering counter-attacking may be the most breathtaking aspect of this World Cup but France coach Bernard Laporte is more concerned with the All Blacks' superlative kicking game.

It is by pinning back teams and forcing them to run balls out of trouble thereby creating lightning turn-overs, that have allowed the All Blacks' devastating finishing power out wide to cut teams open again and again.

An awesome total of 46 tries and 309 points in their four pool games demonstrates just what a cake-walk Graham Henry's side have had to their quarter-final against the French in Cardiff on Saturday, has been.

The World Cup hosts, despite the ridiculous fact that they are playing in Wales, will however be hoping that their illustrious opponents will be slightly under-cooked having not faced anything remotely like a challenge.

France, in contrast, got the fright of their lives by being beaten by Argentina before rolling over Ireland in a fashion that suggests they still have the firepower to cause an upset on Saturday.

And Laporte, who yesterday made eight changes to the side that romped to victory over Georgia, is determined to minimise the All Blacks supply of turn-overs by fielding a side capable of coping with their kicking game.

Lionel Beauxis comes in at out-half with centre Damien Traille switched to full-back as mercurial Frederic Michalak starts on the bench alongside regular full-back Clement Poitrenaud. There is no room in the starting XV either for Sebastien Chabal.

Beauxis, who has won nine caps, scored 24 points in the win over Georgia.

"Against New Zealand, it's important to have a good kicking game," said Laporte. "Fred Michalak is on the bench, he can come on later.

Laporte said Traille's first Test cap at full-back was also to offer a kicking threat. "We want to have an answer to their kicking game, which is one of their strengths.

"New Zealand are a team who try to keep you in your own half and so we need to be able to go out quickly and play in their half of the field."

Former captain Fabien Pelous is chosen ahead of Lionel Nallet to play alongside Jerome Thion in the second row, while Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir and Serge Betsen form the back row.

Pelous, France's most-capped player with 116 Test appearances, is one of the survivors from the the team that beat New Zealand 43-31 in the 1999 World Cup semi-final at Twickenham.

Vincent Clerc and Cedric Heymans were picked on the wings ahead of 1999 hero Christophe Dominici and Aurelien Rougerie.

Yannick Jauzion and David Marty continue in midfield with Jean-Baptiste Elissalde starting at scrum-half.

All Blacks captain McCaw, who has never been on the losing side against the French in seven matches, insists recent history will count for nothing at the Millennium Stadium.

"I'm not sure that we have the upper hand on France. Every Test match is different because there's that fear to get the result we want," said the 26-year-old.

"Everything that has happened up to now becomes irrelevant. France will be desperate. We have got to be desperate and come out with passion.

"We can always have confidence if we get our preparation right and if we have a good performance, there's no reason we can't get the result we want."

Meanwhile, Argentina goalkicker Felipe Contepomi has gone down with a bout of flu, just four days before his side's World Cup quarter-final against Scotland in Paris.

The Leinster back was unable to train today after being struck by the virus, Pumas team doctor Mario Larrain revealed.

Contepomi, who has scored 53 points so far, will not train tonight either, but Argentina are hopeful he will be fit for Sunday's quarter-final showdown with the Scots at the Stade de France. His kicking has been central to their progress to date.

France: Traille, Clerc, Marty, Jauzion, Heymans, Beauxis, Elissalde; Milloud, Ibanez (capt), De Villiers, Pelous, Thion, Betsen, Dusautoir, Bonnaire. Replacements: Szarzewski, Poux, Chabal, Harinordoquy, Michalak, Dominici, Poitrenaud

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