Forget 1999 and 2007. It's 2011 which should scare All Black supporters.

Sports lovers, hold on to your hats. The quarter-final match against France in Cardiff, and all the history that goes with it, is what great World Cup contests are all about.

Sport is a movable feast but in the rugby tournament we keep coming back to the same delicious table. The All Blacks may claim that the past is just that, but not the rest of us.

France and World Cups equal glory and disaster. And if you love an epic, and can get over the notion that the All Blacks have to win every World Cup, it's time to revel in what we are about to receive, whatever the outcome.


Make no mistake - meeting France in a World Cup quarterfinal is among the worst possible draws for the All Blacks. The French have a history of upsetting the All Blacks and will be charged up after ordinary efforts in the pool games. The All Blacks meanwhile have not been tested properly while allegedly fiddling about in third gear, and don't know the French the way they know their southern hemisphere opponents.

This clash in Cardiff is a 50-50 call for my money.

In days past, and their 1999 World Cup blitz against the All Blacks is the prime example, outbreaks of blistering attack typified French rugby. Sweeping moves would appear from under the carpet. Backs and forwards united, guided by something French that we don't totally understand.

But that was before bus loads of coaches, mental skills development psycho-analysis life gurus, Olympic class weightlifters and laptop junkies got hold of rugby players. The chances of anybody launching the sort of sustained assault that France conjured out of nowhere against the 1999 All Blacks are close to zero. Top level test rugby can't be played like that anymore.

But France are still more than capable of disorienting the World Cup favourites in other ways. And the previous so-called disasters will help fertilise the seeds of doubt in the New Zealand camp and on the field especially if things don't go their way.

France are being portrayed as a team in decline but so are the All Blacks. Nehe Milner-Skudder has added fizz, and Ben Smith looks raring to go. But many of their starters are veterans over the hill or not in best form.

History, history, history. It is all over this game, and the 2011 final victory hardly calms the nerves.

Many thought the 2011 showdown would be a cake walk for the All Blacks at Eden Park, a ground where opponents fear to tread. This view was largely reached because France were out of form and in open disarray. There was a split between coach Marc Lievremont and the squad - he even criticised players as "spoiled brats" for going out on the town after beating Wales in the semifinal.


"(They are)always complaining, always whining and they've been at me for four years," he said.

His next words are more significant though.

"It seems to be our way of functioning. I also told them I have a lot of affection for them," he said.

Despite the setting and the build up, France turned up with tremendous, unforgettable force and were not even disrupted by an early All Black try at Fortress Eden Park. Maybe the French will conjure up an argument among themselves this week. But don't be fooled. The All Blacks often draw the best out of France, whatever the circumstances.

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