Will the French be battered All Black and Les Bleus?
The All Blacks will head into Sunday’s World Cup final as the shortest-priced favourites in the 24-year history of the tournament. And with good reason. You couldn’t call their semi-final win over the Wallabies ruthless – there were a few too many errors and five missed goals between Piri Weepu and Aaron Cruden – but NZ were still a class above Australia. And all the other teams at this tournament for that matter.
Even sans talismanic five-eighth Dan Carter, they are simply on another level. Led by the rejuvenated Richie McCaw, their work at the breakdown is peerless and dominance in the scrum should see them steamroll a lightweight French pack.
As much as anything though, it’s hard to shake the belief their opposition is the worst team to ever make a World Cup decider. No country has ever made it out of their pool with two losses, let alone to the final prior to this tournament, but somehow the Tri Colores have managed the feat.
Comfortably eclipsed by the Kiwis in their pool 37-17, they were a rabble against Tonga, showed patches of their best against a rudderless England in the quarter-final and then escaped by a point against a Welsh side that played with 14-men for more than an hour. The bright spots have come in newly-fashioned five-eighth Dominic Parra and ever-reliable No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy, but few others have regularly inspired.
Coach Marc Lievremont has already called a number of players spoilt brats for breaking curfew to celebrate the Wales win. His squad has already been painted as guileless, and Lievremont doesn’t mind adding some extra brush strokes so all the pressure goes onto NZ.
Giving the French any hope at Eden Park defies logic. But they pantsed the Kiwis at the ’99 and ’07 World Cups and were also the last team to beat the Kiwis in Auckland in ’94.
The mercurial French usually have at least one five-star performance in them each Cup; four million New Zealanders will be praying their match against England was it.