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James Gemmell:

The time is now

James asks if Les Bleus can burst hosts' optimism?

James Gemmell Posted 23rd September 2011 view comments

Over two weeks in and 24 matches down, finally the encounter all of New Zealand has waited for.

If the Irish result against Australia gave the Rugby World Cup a good shake, then the competition will come kicking and screaming to life when the All Blacks take on France.

There's top spot in Pool A up for grabs, a 100th Test cap for skipper Richie McCaw, and of course the dramatic World Cup history that exists between the sides.

Lievremont: shocked many with his team selection

Lievremont: shocked many with his team selection

The subtexts have ensured that the country is on edge for this one, and for those early birds who helped make this the first tournament fixture to sell out months ago, the excitement is palpable.

The speculation over Marc Lievremont's team selection has drawn the ire of some commentators and many fans, the latter mostly just following the opinions of the former.

There's enough international class and experience in that French side to believe in themselves, and enough history to back it up.

James Gemmell
Quotes of the week

The truth is, Lievremont has made an art form out of player shuffling and his latest offering should hardly come as much surprise. Few Kiwis know anything about specific French players, and if pressed on their thoughts on Les Bleus, will just give a line about "unpredictability" and "flair".

One man whose opinions on the Gallic game should be heard is Andrew Mehrtens. The former All Black fly-half has spent the last four years living and playing in France at both the highest level for Racing Metro, and now as a player / coach lower down for Beziers.

Currently in New Zealand for the tournament, I spoke to him about the decision to play Dimitri Yachvili and Morgan Parra in the halves; it seemed a curious approach to most, but Mehrtens shrugged it off with an almost French nonchalance.

He spoke of the importance of the scrum-half to the structure, tempo and direction of play in the Top 14, so reckons it's not necessarily a bad thing they've got two number nines on the field. He's as uncertain as any of us if it will work, but falls well short of writing the combination off altogether.

Debate

Then there's the debate over the merits of winning or losing this game for France. With the likely North-South divide in the finals, which side of the draw would they rather be on?

Frankly, I don't buy any of it. There's enough international class and experience in that French side to believe in themselves, and enough history to back it up.

France were the last side to beat the All Blacks on Eden Park, thanks to the 'try from the end of the world' in 1994, they got one over the Kiwis in Dunedin as recently as 2009, and from that infamous World Cup win in Cardiff in 2007, eight members of the French squad return for this match against the All Blacks' five.

They'll be up for it, at least to start with, and that should make this contest everything everyone has been hoping for. Graham Henry has named a very strong line-up, probably the strongest at his disposal, and any mention of New Zealand preferring to lose the match for a beneficial finals run is tantamount to treason.

The World Cup started in New Zealand two weeks ago, but the World Cup starts for New Zealanders at Eden Park on Saturday.

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