World Cup 2011 – France v New Zealand preview
There’s no-one in rugby particularly surprised that the hosts and world’s best team, New Zealand, will be competing in this Sunday’s World Cup final. However, few people before the tournament expected France to be the All Blacks’ opponents in the Auckland showpiece.
Can New Zealand capture the second title they would argue they deserve? Or can the best nation never to win the World Cup finally get their hands on the trophy?
France looking to finally capture the biggest prize
After their unexpected but deserved win against England and nailbiting 9-8 win over Wales, France are in the final for the third time in their history. Coach Marc Lievremont was in the team the last time the French reached this stage of the tournament back in 1999 and takes charge of his team for the final time on Sunday.
He said: “Every time we play the All Blacks it’s always the same – they are always the favourites. I believe in our team and we can win.”
The coach picked an unchanged side last weekend for the first time in his reign and has named the same XV once again for the final.
He added: “It’s really hard to compare a final as a player and as a coach. These games often come down to small details. I hope that will be the case – and not the thrashing everyone’s predicted.
“The first thing I said to the players at the start of the World Cup was that everything matters, both mentally and physically. We must be prepared to do everything we can to win this match.”
New Zealand looking for first title in 24 years
The All Blacks’ imperious march to the final continued in style last weekend as they beat their Tri Nations rivals Australia 20-6. Graham Henry’s side have been head and shoulders better than anyone else in this tournament and look set to end their wait for a second World Cup in front of their home fans this weekend.
However, it may not be quite as simple as many people expect. While thirteen of France’s starting line-up played in the 37-17 defeat to New Zealand a month ago, the hosts remember clearly their defeat to Sunday’s opponents at the quarter final stage four years ago.
All Blacks back Sonny Bill Williams warned: “Expect the unexpected. They can shock us, as they’ve done in past World Cups. Their scrum is up there with the best in the world, their line-out is not too bad either and their backs are unpredictable.
“You can play against one side one week and then you play against them a couple of weeks later and they’re a different team. Past form means nothing.”
New Zealand rugby legend Colin Meads also warned against overconfidence ahead of the final. He said: “We’ve been in that position before, where we were certain that we would win and didn’t. They just got to be above it and not believe everything they read about.
“They should be doing the same as what they did last week. They did play terribly well last Sunday and they need to keep their feet on the ground and play just as well this week.”
Verdict: New Zealand to win their second World Cup
Whatever chance you give France on Sunday, all the omens point to a second world title for New Zealand. This match is a repeat of the first World Cup final where the All Blacks prevailed 29-9 at the same venue. And, the hosts thumped France by the same twenty point margin (37-17) just four weeks ago in the group stage.
However, France often do pull one superb performance out of the bag at a World Cup – the 1999 semi-final and the 2007 quarter final both against New Zealand are cases in point – and so the hosts are going to have to play well to win.
However, I can’t see a side who lost two pool matches going on to end their wait for a World Cup and so I expect New Zealand to win. And, with their home support egging them on, I think they can also overcome the handicap to win in style.
Back New Zealand (-16.0) at evens.