Five Alive! A fistful of ways France can beat New Zealand
1. Set-piece supremacy
The All Black line-out does not miss many beats, but if anyone can mess them around in this crucial department, Les Bleus are the ones.
Lionel Nallet, their most experienced lock, made his presence felt against both England and Wales while Imanol Harinordoquy, the elastic Basque, is probably the finest line-out forward of his generation. The scrum is unlikely to be decisive, despite the formidable techniques of William Servat and Nicolas Mas, but if the game is tight after an hour and the French throw Fabien Barcella and Dimitri Szarzewski into the equation, they might secure an advantage.
Without doubt, the French possess more firepower with the boot: both from the kicking tee, where Dimitri Yachvili and Morgan Parra are greater threats than the makeshift marksman Piri Weepu, and from hand. Yachvili's precision box-kicking, allied to a highly developed radar that allows him to find space in the least obvious areas of the field, has been a feature of this tournament: indeed, if England ever see the Biarritz scrum-half again, it will be many years too soon. The underdogs also have a drop-kicking threats in François Trinh-Duc and Damien Traille, assuming they are given a chance off the bench.
3. Breaking the link
One thing that stops this All Black side being labelled "great" is the less-than-stellar combination at half-back. Weepu is an instinctive rugby player: he knows where to go and when, and he generally does good things once he's there. But he is not particularly quick and if pressure is applied at the breakdown, his service can be exposed. Outside him, Aaron Cruden is as green as the Eden Park grass: quick-witted and quick-footed, but inexperienced. Remember: he was rated New Zealand's third best stand-off as recently as a month ago. If France can hit the tackle areas hard and make Weepu's life a misery, Cruden might struggle.
4. Manning the barricades
Four years ago, in the famous World Cup quarter-final in Cardiff, the French allowed the All Blacks to monopolise possession and dared them to do their worst. Their defence that day was phenomenal: Thierry Dusautoir's 38 tackles from the back row remains the most astonishing statistic in modern rugby history, not least because the New Zealanders made fewer than that between them. Dusautoir's performance levels have been rising through the tournament and with Julien Bonnaire, his fellow flanker, and Maxime Mermoz, the young inside centre, working as hard as they are, there is no reason to think they will crack more easily on this occasion.
5. Rimbaud, not Rambo
If all else fails...to hell with it, let's play some rugby. The "try from the end of the earth" in 1994 was as poetic a move as sport can offer and it deserved to win the Test match. The fact that Jean-Luc Sadourny's score marked the last defeat for New Zealand in Auckland underlines just how difficult it is to ransack the greatest of the All Black fastnesses, but France have run the New Zealanders off their feet more than once in recent memory. Maxime Médard, Vincent Clerc, Alexis Palisson – these blokes can play. If it comes down to a moment of genius...
Home Comforts: France's uphill task
France face an almighty task to better New Zealand tomorrow, not least due to the hosts' fine record at Eden Park. The All Blacks have won their last 26 games at the venue, losing just two of 70 games overall.
NZ at Eden Park: P70 W58 D10 L2
France can find some solace in the fact that they were the last visiting country to prevail at Eden Park - winning 23-20 in 1994. In all the French have lost seven of the countries nine meetings at Eden Park, including in last month's group stages.
Previous World Cup finals
1987 (Auckland): NZ 29-9 France
1991 (London): Aust 12-6 Eng
1995 (Jo'burg): SA 15-12 NZ [aet]
1999 (Cardiff): Aust 35-12 France
2003 (Sydney): Eng 20-17 Aus [aet]
2007 (Paris): SA 15-6 England
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