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ZZ's support as Les Bleus have lift-off

By Gavin Mairs in Bordeaux

The Ireland rugby team will be anxious viewers as the curtain rises on the 2007 Rugby World Cup with a gargantuan clash between hosts France and perennially dangerous underdogs Argentina.

The International Rugby Board, despite being engaged in an unedifying row with some media outlets regarding the use of pictures during the tournament, predict this, the sixth World Cup, will be the biggest and best yet.

It will be an emotional night for IRB chairman Syd Millar as the former Ballymena, Ulster, Ireland and Lions prop is expected to stand down after the tournament.

And in a chest-thumping attempt to stir the French public's passions, France coach Bernard Laporte today appealed for every citizen to wear Les Bleus' rugby jersey tonight.

"It would be great if every French person wore blue shirts on Friday," said Laporte, whose squad were buoyed by a phone call of support from football star Zinedine Zidane, who played in the football World Cup final for France last year.

"What we want is for the whole of France to wear blue to show that 60 million people are behind the team. We have launched the 'blue day'.

"It will be wonderful for people to get a good impression of France.

"A lot of people are coming and are going to discover our beautiful France and what we need is for everyone to receive a warm welcome.

"This week the eyes of the world will be on France and we must show that we as French are friendly people."

The Ireland players will watch the opening ceremony and match at the Stade de France in Paris (kick-off 8pm BST) from their Sofitel Hotel in the outskirts of Bordeaux.

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan fears that a shock result for Argentina, who have beaten France in four of their last five encounters, will make the battle for the quarter-finals a real dogfight.

"If Argentina beat France tonight, which is a distinct possibility because we know they're capable of it, it would throw the group into turmoil, " said O'Sullivan.

"It could end up a three-way play-off with the group being decided by points difference, which nobody wants."

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll believes France will edge it. Just.

" It's a very difficult game to call. It will be very tight, maybe France to sneak it," said O'Driscoll.

Meanwhile, England start their campaign tomorrow against USA, while New Zealand meet Italy and Australia take on Japan.

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