Past encounters unlikely to worry either teams
There’s a trail of thought that suggests France are New Zealand’s nemesis and a Saturday night quarter-final in Cardiff will have the All Blacks quaking in their boots. It is, after all, the same stage and location in which Les Blues made a stirring second-half comeback to overhaul a 3-13 deficit, to win 20-18 back in 2007.
Eight years previously, in the semi-finals, France shocked New Zealand in one of the sport’s greatest ever games whilst in 2011 the French were squeezed out by just a single point to the Kiwis in the World Cup final. In fact, only Australia and Les Blues have beaten the All Blacks in the last four editions of the tournament.
There’s also a school of suggestion believing the All Blacks have failed to fire and are vulnerable this weekend. Sure, there’s an element of truth there but I’ll take both notions and send them straight to the rubbish bin. New Zealand will beat France and their performance levels will be upped significantly.
To begin with, only Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Thierry Dusautoir started the 2007 epic so are the current crop likely to be scarred by the ghosts (or in France’s case inspired) of 2007? Clearly not. Recent head-to-heads have New Zealand running out winners in the last eight, including all four since being crowned world champs.
Secondly, understandably, scratchy wins over Argentina, Namibia and Georgia followed by a second-half onslaught against Tonga have raised doubts about the All Blacks’ ability to defend their crown. But Steve Hansen’s side have been using the pool stage as a dress rehearsal for knockout rugby, keen not to expend too much energy or show their hand too early.
A more accurate form book is the Kiwis’ return since lifting the last World Cup – three defeats in 51 matches plus 21/22 victories away to Six Nations sides since 2008. So are the All Blacks seriously going to be concerned about a French side that flopped in a 24-9 defeat to Ireland last Sunday? Obviously not.
Les Blues will have less than a week before going into battle again and face a refreshed New Zealand side that’s had their feet up since last Friday – another tick in the All Blacks box. Of course, we’ll hear all about the French unpredictability but it would take a brave punter to trust the enigmatic underdogs to upset the applecart of the most well-drilled, powerful sides in world rugby.
New Zealand’s experience, game-breaking class, star-studded bench and proven big-match performers should ensure an emphatic, demon-quelling triumph. I’m confident this is where Hansen will launch his side into the World Cup and we’ll see the Kiwis signal their intentions to retain their trophy.
France, led by Phillipe Saint-Andre, have never convinced under his tutelage and last Sunday’s encounter was just enough example of Les Blues underperforming. They’ve lost eight of 10 matches against the southern hemisphere giants under his watch and half of those losses arrived by 10 points or more. Throw in the fact that, nine of the All Blacks’ last 14 victories over France were by margins of 13+ points and an 11-point handicap looks achievable.
Four of New Zealand’s last five knockout victories came by a margin of 14 points or more and so backing the All Blacks to win by over 12 points at 10/11 looks the better bet on the card from Cardiff at a slightly better price.