French press in Rugby World Cup battle with NZ

By Michael Dickison

A French newspaper has accused the Herald of trying to destabilise les Bleus with a front-page polemic of "an acidic pen and populist tone".

Aujourd'hui en France responded to a Herald claim this week that the French had picked a weak team for tomorrow night's marquee match against the All Blacks.

The Herald reported that the French selection disappointed ticketholders and devalued the tournament's showcase clash in the eyes of commentators.

France's second and third dailies, Le Figaro and Le Monde, also picked up on the Herald article but brushed it aside.

"The New Zealand press look to destabilise les Bleus," Aujourd'hui en France wrote in its headline.

"Without waiting for the kick-off of the clash between New Zealand and France - this Saturday at Eden Park in Auckland - hostilities have already been triggered," its article began.

The Paris-based newspaper, also sold as Le Parisien, said the Herald had seized on French coach Marc Lievremont's selections to provoke controversy.

"'The World Cup's $460 French Farce', one could read on the front page of the mass-circulation newspaper, which clearly aimed to destabilise les Bleus, the 'betes noires' of the Kiwis at the Rugby World Cup," it said.

The Herald had written the article with "an acidic pen and populist tone", it went on.

"Will the French players on track to start the match know how to respond on the pitch and show that they are more than a B team? The verdict on Saturday," the newspaper concluded.

Le Figaro referred to the French selection as "the controversy the New Zealand newspapers take pleasure in getting animated about".

The French team had responded by having a good laugh at the Herald's "virulent criticism", the newspaper reported.

"Me, it makes me laugh," Imanol Harinordoquy, the French No 8, told the newspaper.

Le Monde said the Herald - which it introduced as New Zealand's biggest newspaper - had drawn smiles more than annoyance.

The media polemic had its origins in the All Blacks' two World Cup defeats at the hands of France, which still traumatised the land of the long white cloud, the newspaper said.

- NZ Herald

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