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Do France Have Any Chance Of Beating New Zealand?

by Aidan Elder | October 19, 2011

Marc Lievremont

No, is the short answer and based on what we’ve seen of them in the World Cup the longer answer arrives at pretty much the same conclusion. From what we’ve seen far, only the most deluded of cheese-eating surrender monkeys would give their team a chance of upsetting the All Blacks on home soil, but are there any circumstances under which France can win? Not really, but here are some factors that might get them closer than we’re expecting.

1. The French Players hate their coach
If all those farmers and truckers blocking roads in the 1990s taught us anything, it’s ‘don’t underestimate the motivation of a bunch of Frenchmen desperate to make a pretty futile point’. In this instance, you get the impression the point would be ‘we won the World Cup despite the guidance of our manager.’ Throughout his tenure in charge of Les Bleus, Marc Lievremont has chopped, changed and generally made so many bizarre decisions that every single member of his current squad has almost certainly felt aggrieved at some point. Winning a World Cup would be nice, but winning it going against the wishes of an unpopular boss would make it extra sweet. The coach called his players ‘undisciplined, disobedient, sometimes selfish. Always complaining, always moaning … spoiled brats’ after they toasted their mugging of Wales with a few beers last weekend and the players responded with a Gallic shrug of indifference that Lievremont is probably well accustomed to seeing. There were no dwarves thrown, whispers of infidelity or nautical antics so the decision to ignore the coach hasn’t done much harm. Adopting the same policy for the final wouldn’t hurt.

2. France have one big game in them
This is the fundamental ‘earth orbiting the sun’ idea at the core of French rugby. It’s the belief that governs all thinking on Les Bleus. No matter how utterly horrendous they’ve been in the previous game, there’s always the nagging doubt they’ll be able to get it together next time around. Generations of French players have had the cool, calmness and arrogance not to doubt themselves when they’ve been rubbish and it means they’re invariably well-placed mentally to deliver on their next assignment. The evidence of a pool stage hiding at the hands of New Zealand, defeat to Tonga, about 20 minutes of good rugby against England and the good fortune of coming out on the right side of ‘rugby rules roulette’ against Wales would suggest we haven’t seen the big game yet and by process of elimination it’s due any day soon. We know that when they’re on song, this French team are capable of playing some exceptional rugby. Sunday would be a good time to prove it.

3. People May Be Getting Carried Away With New Zealand
I explored the myth of the All Blacks versus the reality before the tournament began and although my general thesis of an imminent All Blacks choke has earned me a couple of plates full of humble pie, I maintain they’re not playing at a level too far ahead of the opposition. It took nearly 70 minutes for them to touch down against Argentina in the quarter-final and they only managed 6 points in the second half against one of the weaker Australian teams of the last couple of decades. Plus, Quade Cooper choose the occasion to put in the least convincing Australian performance since Robert Downey Jr in Natural Born Killers, so should the All Blacks not have managed something more convincing than the 14 point win? In fairness, the actual scoreline didn’t truly reflect the utter domination they enjoyed over the Wallabies in every aspect of the game, but New Zealand not building up the scores they probably deserve – when have we heard that before?

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4. Non-specific deep rooted All Black issues with France
This is pretty much a non-excuse, but there aren’t a whole lot of straws to clutch at, so we’ll look at it. France have shocked the All Blacks at the World Cup a couple of times in the past and those occasions with minimal relation to this meeting are enough to qualify as a glimmer of hope, aren’t they? Putting any great faith in this idea requires a couple of questionable assumptions. Firstly, that there’s something biologically impossible imprinted on the DNA of a typical All Black that makes him tremble with fear at the sight of a Frenchman. Secondly, it makes the assumption the players involved in the 2007 are still haunted by the defeat and remain deeply scarred by the experience. Both of these theories hold about as much water as your typical colander. The freedom and fearlessness of France at their best makes them a handful, but New Zealand now play them with enough regularity to nullify the unpredictability factor which may have caught them unawares in the past. It’s a crappy excuse, but then again France have supplied us with plenty of crappy performances.

5. Richie McCaw flops on the biggest night of his career
From 1 to 15 or possibly even about 22, the All Blacks have an excellent group of players, each of whom is amongst the best in the world in his position, but at 7 and 10 they have truly exceptional living legends of the game. With Dan Carter out, the team still looks very good, but less untouchable than they appear when he’s pulling the strings at out-half. Richie McCaw is left as the only entirely peerless player on the team. His ‘lead by example’ methods have been the foundation upon countless New Zealand wins in the past and another big performance is essential in the final. Having said all that and bowed in deference to his greatness, there have been games in his career when he hasn’t preformed and the Kiwi oublic haven’t been shy about lobbing some flack in his direction. If he’s not on his most aggressive, crafty and rule-bending form or if Craig Joubert clamps down on some of his more questionable activities, the New Zealand performance is likely to suffer. The All Blacks may still have enough in their locker to prevail, but stopping McCaw is key to France’s hopes of outflanking their hosts.

Do France have any hope? Have your say in the comments section below and let the (largely one-sided) debate commence!

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