Rugby Union: France ready for chance to shine

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The Independent Online
NEW ZEALAND and France, who beat Argentina and the host nation, Italy, in the semi-finals of the Student World Cup, meet in the final here today.

New Zealand, in a replay of the 1988 final, were tested by a highly motivated and well-organised Argentina, in a surprising game of opening gambits and counter-gambits with the two sides effectively cancelling out each other's sharp edges, although ultimately New Zealand won 21-9.

Argentina, who beat England 9-6 in their pool game, have based their progress on superior scrummaging and the kicking of their stand-off Leandro Bouza. However, in the semi-final, New Zealand challenged up front and denied Argentina their scrummaging platform. The Pumas fell back on their battling appetite and the expertise of their back row. The two sets of loose forwards nipped any promising attack in the bud.

New Zealand prevailed in a fast and furious finale mostly because they managed to absorb the absence of their captain, Steven Cotterell, nursing a calf injury, better than Argentina coped with the loss of their centre Eduardo Laborde, who was carried off with a broken leg after about half an hour of play.

France had to overcome an ambitious Italy who punished them until injury time when two penalties helped the French scrape through with a 25-21 victory.

France looked a shadow of the side that knocked out England in the quarter-finals. It is difficult to say whether their lacklustre performance was because of the vigour of the Italian challenge or - as the French captain, Serge Simon, suggested - over-confidence.

With over-confidence firmly ruled out against New Zealand, it will be fascinating to find out whether a fully tuned France can disrupt the formidable New Zealand playing machine.

Three of the four home union sides were knocked out in the quarter-finals with England and Scotland giving good accounts of themselves against France and Argentina (18-29) respectively. Ireland were comprehensively beaten 53-9 by New Zealand. Wales failed to reach the last eight.

STUDENT WORLD CUP Semi-finals: (L'Aquila, It): France 25 Italy 21; (Castellammare di Stabia, It): New Zealand 21 Argentina 9.