Rugby World Cup Pedigree:
As clichéd as it is, you can never tell where France stand ahead of a World Cup because you simply don’t know which side will show up. They had a mixed campaign during this year’s Six Nations, finishing second but going down to England and then, surprisingly, Italy on the penultimate weekend. But they notched up two wins over Ireland in their warm up matches, showing their steal in the most recent as they held back a stoic Irish fight back. On their day they can beat anyone, but more often than not, they are guilty of peaking too early in World Cups, claiming a huge win before going down timidly.
France have always had a good outing at the World Cup, reaching the final on two occasions in 1987 and 1999. On the last two occasions they have reached the semi finals, knocked out by England in two very close matches. The side have finished top of their pool at every World Cup except the 2007 edition where they were beaten by Argentina in their opening game.
Best Rugby World Cup moment:
Reaching two finals is no mean feat, and if it were any other team that would be the best moment. However, France’s finest hour has always come against New Zealand. In 1999 the All Blacks were, as usual, favourites. But no one told France that and they proceeded to rewrite the script in the semi final, sealing a memorable win. Eight years later they did it a stage earlier in the quarter final with Frederic Michalak the main conspirator to the Kiwis downfall this time around.
Biggest Rugby World Cup win: 87-10 v Namibia (September 16, 2007)
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: 40-13 v New Zealand (November 20, 2003)
Morgan Parra has been central to France’s game for the past few seasons and if he is on form the back line will almost certainly be firing on all cylinders. His distribution is world class and he is also a danger around the break down, constantly a threat with the ability to break through the smallest of gaps. His kicking is also good enough to put teams under pressure and although he is young he has a wealth of experience.
One to watch:
Raphaël Lakafia has had a break through season this year. He became the first choice Number 8 for Biarritz which is an achievement in itself, and he has stepped up his game according the French management. To oust the iconic Sebastian Chabal has taken a monumental effort, but with his performances this year it had to happen. Expect him to be an impact sub, causing damage in the last 20 minutes of matches.
Rugby World Cup Fixtures:
v Japan (September 10, 18:00/07:00)
v Canada (September 18, 20:30/09:30)
v New Zealand (September 24, 20:30/09:30)
v Tonga (October 1, 18:00/06:00)
With the history between the two and the fact that it is likely to be the battle for top spot in the pool, France’s match with hosts New Zealand is going to be vital to their campaign. France has always been able to rattle New Zealand in these tournaments but the All Blacks will be desperate to perform in front of their home fans.
Odds: Surprisingly low at 14/1. Could well be worth a flutter.
France coach Marc Lievremont says:
“We’re on course for the World Cup and it was out of the question to make 15 players sweat blood and tears and not make the others play. From the moment we chose to play two warm-up games, and I don’t regret that choice, everybody had to play.”
France captain Thierry Dusautoir says:
“We are going there to get stuck into this competition, not to go sight seeing. If we give the best of ourselves from beginning to end, we can seriously think about that title of world champions.”
Although Japan, Tonga and Canada won’t seem like a problem for the French they will not want to be caught napping. The match against New Zealand will probably come too early in the tournament for them so they are likely to finish runners up in the pool, setting up a semi final against the winners of Pool B, which looks likely to be England. From there anything could happen.
Position: A semi final is possible but they will need to nullify an English pack.
by Nick Winn