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Les Bleus show their true colours at World Cup time

By Isa Nacewa

For New Zealanders, the mental scars inflicted by the French at World Cups have not gone away.

Even beating them in the 2011 final couldn't heal the pain of the 1999 and 2007 defeats. They are always in the back of people's minds back home.

Being a New Zealander, Joe Schmidt will have watched those World Cup games, but he won't be affected. He will take account of them and use them to increase his knowledge of how to beat the French.

His three years in France as assistant coach with Clermont will also help. That gives him a knowledge of the players and insight into the French psyche - and it's the same with Jonny Sexton from his two years with Racing Metro.

We have seen from his first two Six Nations in charge that Joe knows how to beat France. And these Irish players will have no fear of France.

But equally, Joe won't be carried away by those two wins, or the fact Ireland are unbeaten against the French in more than four years, or that France have struggled since the last World Cup.

Joe will be fully aware that France are a totally different animal at World Cups. The Top 14 clubs are so powerful that the France coaches barely get their players together for a solid two weeks during the Six Nations. You can't expect to perform in those circumstances.

Now they have been together for eight weeks, so you can expect a lot more fluidity. History shows that the French always perform at World Cups, when it really matters.

There is such a quality of player coming out of France. Look at how strong the Top 14 is - the majority of the best players in the world play in it. Of course, they are not all French, but enough home-grown players get opportunities to play, and when they do, the standard is so high that a lot of them will be ready for Test rugby.

The overseas influence in French rugby is changing their mindset. You hear that French sides don't travel well, or that their heads can drop when they go behind, but I certainly haven't seen much evidence of that when I've played against the likes of Toulon or Clermont or Toulouse.

There's two sides to playing modern-day French teams. They can dominate the set-piece and kick their goals to close out games, as Leinster found out the hard way against Toulouse in the 2010 Heineken Cup semi-final.

But the beauty is, they always have individuals with serious X-factor. Coming from New Zealand, I always had an admiration for French rugby, and that has only grown since I came to Ireland and started playing French sides on a regular basis.

France haven't been great so far at this World Cup, but they have got by - a bit like Ireland. They have the ability to switch between game-plans. Joe will know full well they are a better side than they have shown.

So how can Ireland beat France? Well, a lot depends on the set-piece. I think the lineout is one area of weakness for the French, and that's why Joe has brought Devin Toner back - to target the French lineout with his extra height

Another key man is Mike Ross. If he can dominate the scrum - and I think he can - Ireland can start to apply scoreboard pressure, force the French to play more and exploit that.

I think Ireland will do it. It's not win or bust tomorrow, but avoiding the All Blacks is a pretty big prize, and I'm confident Ireland will do it.

Belfast Telegraph


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