Rugby World Cup: `Today I think we showed the world what we really can do'

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THE FRENCH players looked as stunned as the All Blacks after the biggest World Cup upset - indeed one of the biggest upsets in world rugby ever - wandering into the press conference still damp from the showers and the tears that had flowed.

But, of course, France had already stunned the sporting world when they lifted the football World Cup in 1998 and it may be no coincidence that members of that winning team met up with the French rugby players on Saturday night.

"We met Frank Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly last night," said a smiling Olivier Magne, who had an immense match. "We talked about the World Cup and how they had not been favourites and they gave us a few tips about how to maintain our confidence as underdogs. French rugby history is very mixed, going from one extreme to another, but today I think we showed the world what we really can do when we want. But we have not won the World Cup, only a semi-final."

Emile Ntamack said: "We did not like being written off against the All Blacks. It is very hard when you hear and read that sort of thing. But the French players are very proud and we just did not dwell on what was being said."

Raphael Ibanez, the French captain, was very sanguine and almost matter- of-fact. He was already looking ahead to the final in Cardiff on Saturday.

"It is going to be an interesting week," said the hooker. "Although we can take a great deal of satisfaction from this victory, we now have to beat Australia. There are two ways of looking at the World Cup final, positively and negatively. I know all my players will adopt a positive approach like me."

Coach Jean-Claude Skrela said: "We have been party poopers today and although what we have achieved will not change the evolution of rugby throughout the world I just hope this victory will bring joy to everyone in France."

Skrela was in stoical mood, looking barely stirred by all the emotion around him. "Today was the culmination of three months hard work. We now have a week and 80 minutes left. New Zealand win often, but from time to time they do lose, and today we benefited from that moment - or maybe it was because we knew how to win.

New Zealand might do well to rethink the haka, since, according to Ibanez, that was an indirect source of inspiration.

"I gathered the players together after the haka and I told them that they should prepare themselves because we were going to war. And soldiers often sing a song when they march off to battle, so we all sang La Marseillaise."

There were some touching scenes at the end. The France prop Franck Tournaire plucked his child from the spectators and carried him around on the lap of honour. Magne and Josh Kronfeld embraced by the tunnel and then, because the New Zealand flanker did not have his shirt anymore, having already swapped it with another player, the pair exchanged scrum caps instead.

The New Zealand coach, John Hart, was magnanimous in defeat. "France played exceptionally well. We were totally out played in the second half."

The All Blacks had conceded 33 points without reply in a 28-minute spell before they salvaged some pride. No other country has ever scored so many points against them.

Words did not come so easily to Hart when he tried to explain how his team let slip a 24-10 lead. "We should have won from there," said the coach. "There can be no excuses from that position. It is a young side but they were quite capable of winning the game."