"Someone has to be favourites," said Vincent Clerc, the brilliant little wing from Toulouse, as he chewed the fat ahead of this weekend's World Cup final with New Zealand at Eden Park. As there was no conceivable need for him to add the phrase "and it's not us", he saved his breath. But there was, at long last, a hint of the French fires beginning to burn – a discernible increase in temperature around the team's city-centre hotel – as Clerc (above) and colleagues, Morgan Parra and Imanol Harinordoquy among them, discussed their chances of turning the tournament upside down on Sunday.
"I don't feel as though I'm living in the skin of a loser," Clerc remarked. "I really don't feel that at all. New Zealand have reasons to be confident: it is logical that people expect them to win this game. But maybe it's our turn to play our cards. We know we're capable of playing the match we need to play: it's never easy against the All Blacks, but we have the tools. This game is still in the future. New Zealand are not world champions yet." Along with Cory Jane, his opposite number this weekend, Clerc has been the competition's outstanding right wing. He has scored half a dozen tries in as many contests – a tally matched only by Chris Ashton of England – and been heavily involved in most of the good things achieved by Les Bleus. All tournament, he has been one of the Tricolores who at least looked like he believed.
"Victories against the All Blacks are improbable," he admitted. "We have to be completely realistic, completely lucid: we cannot miss a single opportunity.
"But we're not in this final by coincidence; we're here because we've done what needed to be done. Yes, when people say we are alone here in New Zealand, it is true. But we were alone when we beat the All Blacks in Cardiff in the last tournament and alone when we won in Dunedin in 2009. We are in our bubble: we don't need to look outside or think about what anybody else is doing or saying.
"There have been difficult times in this tournament, but we like difficulty. It allows us to believe that the impossible is possible. We understand that we have no choice but to try to make history. This week cannot be compared with last week, before the semi-final. That was a very stressful time. Now, we are in a different dimension: we are in a very pleasant place. It will be hard for us, this game, but we can destabilise the All Blacks because we have the ability to do exceptional things."Reuse content