The French arrive in New Zealand with a reputation as entertainers, but will take their World Cup chances very seriously. France are one of only five nations to reach the knock-out stage in every World Cup and demand respect as genuine challengers for the title, despite holding the dubious distinction of being the only team in this select group without their name on the Webb Ellis Cup. Pitted in Pool A, France will expect no problems in progressing past minor teams Japan, Canada and Tonga but face an uphill battle for the top qualifier spot with hosts New Zealand favourites to win the pool.
Losing finalists in both 1987 and 1999, France enter the World Cup ranked fourth but would dearly like to claim their first World Cup. Famous World Cup upsets against the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007 underline the confidence Les Blues possess in their own ability; however the French are notorious for their inconsistency, a trait that must be rectified for a sustained push for the title. France hold title as the only Northern Hemisphere to win a series in New Zealand (in 1994); this coupled with their 2010 Grand Slam will inspire belief in a squad that has endured a difficult twelve months. A trouncing by Australia late in 2010 was followed by a shock loss to Italy and a tryless performance against England in the following Six Nations, clouding otherwise impressive victories against Ireland and Wales.
Marc Lievremont coaches a team born entirely of French Top 14 rugby, one packed with enough international experience to rival any squad in the tournament. Captain Thierry Dusautoir will relish meeting the All Blacks in pool play after his outstanding quarter-final performance in 2007 both shattered New Zealand hearts and ignited his career. The flanker leads an experienced pack that, in accordance with French tradition, focuses on outstanding scrummaging; with a ferocious tight five complemented by a back row who share over 150 caps. The pairing of young halves Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc add a dash of youth to an otherwise veteran backline that includes world renowned names such as Cedric Heymans and Aurelien Rougerie. Heymans links with Toulouse teammates Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard to form a potent back three that, if selected, have been in eye-catching form of late.
France begin their bid for a first World Cup against lowly Japan on the 10th September in Auckland. A mild second fixture against Canada eight days later will be used to fine-tune the French line-up ahead of an imposing clash with New Zealand on the 24th. A final pool match in the capital against Tonga should seal France’s progression to the knock-out stages, in which they will, in all likelihood, face fierce rivals England before any hope of a triumphant World Cup campaign is realised.