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France pose absolutely no threat to the All Blacks

Chris Rattue3/10/07

Thank goodness for the great World Cup jersey fiasco this week. Apart from recalling what the dastardly French did in 1999, when they cheated the All Blacks out of their birthright by playing a spell of blindingly brilliant rugby, it's been difficult to get overly concerned about Sunday's quarter-final in Cardiff.

So an apparel conspiracy and a delayed coin toss to decide who wears the alternate strip have stepped in to fill the build-up breach.

Not that it matters, because the All Blacks could play in sackcloths and they'd still stomp all over France.

The scoreboard shows that the only things that have got closer between these two countries over the past five years are the jersey colours. It's always dangerous relying on statistics but in this case they are impossible to ignore.

A warning here: French people with faint hearts should avert their eyes. And young French people: ask your parents first before reading them.

Since the two sides drew in 2002, New Zealand has played France seven times while France has hardly played at all.

During this spell the try-scoring is dead even - between Joe Rokocoko and France - at six all. But if you bring other factors into the picture, such as counting the tries scored by the other All Blacks, the score stands at All Blacks 37, France six.

Admittedly, France used a dud side in New Zealand this year but at times they actually played better than their supposed top team has in recent seasons.

Since the 2002 draw in Paris, the average score is 41-11 in the All Blacks' favour, which is mild compared to the humiliation dished out to the French scrum.

Another interesting statistic is that France's core includes players who are almost as old as England's, which is saying something. This French side is well past its prime. Christophe Dominici, Serge Betsen, Fabian Pelous, Raphael Ibanez, Pieter de Villiers, Olivier Milloud - these blokes are old enough to swap rugby stories with Mike Catt.

That's enough about statistics.

France's problems start at the top, with their coach Bernard Laporte.

The man is a ticking time bomb, and not only in hotel lobbies. While most coaches regard matches as events to be studied at the time so as to rearrange tactics and sort out clever substitutions, Laporte can be observed in the stands throwing sudden one-man parties. Sometimes you wonder if he's actually doing a pump class via his laptop.

One thing is certain - he must have had a serious brain explosion when picking David Skrela at first five-eighths against Argentina.

Maybe Laporte took his eye off the ball. After all, he is preparing to become France's national sports minister, he does have thousands of personally signed jerseys to auction, there are also French ham adverts to worry about, plus many business dealings to attend to.

Even then, David Skrela for Freddie Michalak? No wonder Laporte is called "Crazy Bernie".

Which reminds me. According to the English Telegraph newspaper, Laporte prepared his side to face Argentina by getting one of his reserves to read the letter of a teenage World War II resistance fighter, written on the eve of his execution.

In all honesty, even a non-Frenchman hearing that letter today would be left emotionally drained and even distressed at the evils of war. God knows what it was like for the French players, listening to that before a major match.

Maybe Laporte has got a few musings from Joan of Arc ready for Sunday morning.

One thing is for sure. With Laporte in charge, All Black supporters can already break out the wine, and those who have travelled to the tournament can even break out bottles of wine with Laporte's logo on them.

It is, of course, our national duty to be hellishly nervous before a World Cup quarter-final, but it's difficult to even get a little twitchy this time no matter how many people insist on saying "France are capable of anything".

Bernard Laporte is capable of anything, but his rugby team ain't.

The All Blacks may not have reached the standards which the initial part of Graham Henry's reign suggested they would reach at the World Cup. But they are still well honed, with a forward pack in the prime of its career and enough clout in the backs to deal with the likes of France.

Laporte may have friends in high places and be headed for higher office, but by Sunday he'll know there won't be rugby's most prized silverware to put on his new mantelpiece.


CHRIS RATTUE | The NZ Herald | Wednesday, 3 October , 2007 | Comment on this article

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Chris Rattue

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