Can the French finally end World Cup drought?
If it wasn't bad enough to be listed as probably the best team never to have won the World Cup, France must shoulder the additional pressure of expectations that come with hosting the tournament.
PARIS, Aug 17, 2007 (AFP) - The French have probably pulled off two of the greatest semi-final wins in the history of the tournament - against Australia in 1987 and the All Blacks in 1999 - and yet have never lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy.
Now as hosts and with future French sports minister Bernard Laporte in charge there can be no hiding from their role as probably the northern hemisphere's favourite to win the trophy.
That is not to say there is not flair in the backs division with the evergreen winger Christophe Dominici, unpredictable fullback Clement Poitrenaud and the outstanding centre Yannick Jauzion.
However, much of their fortune may lie in the denouement over the fitness of the equally-most capped prop in French rugby Sylvain Marconnet after his double fracture of a leg in the middle of the last Six Nations when he went on a bizarrely arranged ski holiday.
So important is Marconnet to the French that a decision has been held back till August 31 on whether he plays a role or not in their bid to win the trophy.
"What novelties? We are going to play rugby. No match is the same as the other one.
"Everything depends on the manner in which the game is played.
"The All Blacks know each other's manner of playing, their combinations, but after that it is up to us to stop them.
"It is like Mike Tyson, everyone knew his style of boxing, but it was still up to his opponent to counter his style."
France's fortunes like so many of the favoured countries will depend on their scrum-half/fly-half combination and Laporte has rarely picked a similar duo for every match he has been in charge of.
The romantics of the sport would see a duet of Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and his Toulouse team-mate but South Africa-bound Frederic Michalak as the ideal pairing and the list of their results when they have been together since the 2004 Six Nations tournament is impressive with 12 played, eight wins, one draw and just two defeats.
However there is ever the likelihood of Laporte again favouring a more conservative double of scrum-half Pierre Mignoni and David Skrela - who inspired the French to the Six Nations title this year.
Elissalde's attitude to whether he gets the nod or not perhaps best sums up the chances of the French.
"I have a simple attitude. I give of my best and afterwards 'inch'Allah'".
Talented scrum-half for Begles-Bordeaux turned coach to Stade Francais. On paper he appears to be one of the most successful coaches to have handled the French national side with four Six Nations titles under his belt since he took over after the 1999 World Cup final defeat to Australia. However there remain plenty of critics who accuse him of erasing the flair so much associated with the French rugby history for pragmatic reasons. Pragmatism will be handy for his future post after the World Cup as a sports minister but it remains to be seen whether his cautiousness on the rugby front will finally pay dividends for the French in the World Cup.
Mercurial, unpredictable, infuriating - all adjectives to ascribe to the soon to be South Africa-bound fly-half. The 2003 World Cup showed him in all those facets and things unlike Bob Dylan's song are not a changing. However if France really are to land the William Webb Ellis trophy for the first time Laporte would be well advised to include the 25-year-old as his first choice fly-half. Injured for most of last season, Michalak wouldn't be in the mould of a Jonny Wilkinson in making the harshest of tackles but he has a vision of the game and the opening up of a backline that perhaps his English counterpart lacks.
Subject: French news