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
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
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
One thing is certain - he must have had a
serious brain explosion when picking David
Skrela at first five-eighths against
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
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
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
CHRIS RATTUE |
The NZ Herald | Wednesday, 3 October ,
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