After England had beaten France in their 2003 Rugby World Cup semifinal, some English observers mockingly dubbed one of the French loose forwards "Harry Ordinary".

French coach Marc Lievremont may have felt similarly disposed towards the form of Imanol Harinordoquy at the start of this year's tournament.

He left the powerful Basque No 8 out of his starting XV for the pool games against Canada, the All Blacks and Tonga. When he returned for the quarter-final against England, Harinordoquy was named man of the match.

Afterwards, a journalist plaintively asked Lievremont why on earth he had left Harinordoquy out of those earlier matches.

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Lievremont effectively suggested he needed to find a way to get the fire in the belly stirring.

When the teams run on to Eden Park on Sunday night, Harinordoquy and his Biarritz teammate Dimitri Yachvili at halfback will be charged with steering France around the park against the All Blacks.

The French loose forward trio is now established too - Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire and captain Thierry Dusautoir.

It is the second time in his nine-year international career that Harinordoquy has been part of a top class trio, having earlier worked impressively alongside Olivier Magne and Serge Betsen in a notably hard-nosed operation.

Harinordoquy, 31, will win his 77th cap this weekend and it will be the biggest, most significant game of his career. "Definitely. I don't think it will happen again," the 31-year-old said.

"Given the context of being able to play in New Zealand against the All Blacks in a World Cup final, it's something I dreamed of as a child."

Harinordoquy was born in Bayonne but raised in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port (or Donibane Garazi, to use its Basque name) 8km on the French side of the border with Spain, nestled in the Pyrenees.

Basque is his native tongue and he's proud of his roots, tough and unflinching, and with that comes a reluctance to suffer fools. He's run with the bulls at Pamploma and when he puts his boots away, he will return to his family's cattle trading business.

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As befitting a man from that part of France, Harinordoquy has strong convictions. He spoke forcefully when Lievremont criticised his players after their loss to Tonga in pool play.

Essentially such views should be for players' ears only, he said. The players needed to clear their heads of the "merde" then cluttering their thinking, he added. The result? A quarter-final win over England.

Harinordoquy has an interesting relationship with the English. Early in his career he was quoted as saying he "hated" them, describing them as "dismissive and arrogant".

It evidently stemmed from an unpleasant age-group international against England. Harinordoquy has suggested that his remarks were subsequently exaggerated. Still, he's not the only French player down the years who would have a special fondness for toppling Les Rosbifs.

Harinordoquy's athleticism is a hallmark of his game - former French coach "Barmy" Bernard Laporte once dubbed him "Golden Hands" for his agility and ball handling - allied to an indefatigable quality with which he drives himself forward through times of stress and pain.

Take the Heineken Cup semifinal last year, when he wore a face mask to protect a broken nose, and played with damaged ribs in the win over Munster.

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Harinordoquy helped France win the Grand Slam last year and was the only Northern Hemisphere representative on the international player of the year shortlist.

Harinordoquy and Yachvili share another link besides their positional proximity and significance for this French team. They are the only two players willing to speak English at press conferences.

Yachvili is the better of the two - stemming from spending a season at Gloucester - but it has made them popular with those whose francais ended in high school.

Harinordoquy talked yesterday of the French journey, with its slippery slopes, to this final.

"At times we can be our worst enemy," he said. "It's incredible. We've lost two pool matches. Against England we rose to the challenge; we probably shouldn't have won against Wales, but we did and here we are. This is our journey, our history and we need to believe in our own destiny."

Dusautoir is the captain and highly respected. But you sense France's heartbeat may be found in the No 8.

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