Rugby: All Blacks' credibility on line against France

31st May 2007, Comments 0 comments

AUCKLAND, May 31, 2007 (AFP) - The All Blacks put their World Cup credentials on the line against a below-par French rugby side here Saturday when the controversial reconditioning theory faces its first test.

AUCKLAND, May 31, 2007 (AFP) - The All Blacks put their World Cup credentials on the line against a below-par French rugby side here Saturday when the controversial reconditioning theory faces its first test.

Anything but an emphatic All Blacks victory is certain to provoke a highly vocal backlash in a country frustrated at not having won the World Cup for 20 years.

Coach Graham Henry admitted "there's a lot at stake" as he set out this week moulding his squad into a unit ressembling the powerful side which flattened France 47-3 and 23-11 at the end of last year.

But most of his top players put through a special World Cup preparation programme at the start of this year failed to fire when they joined the Super 14 competition mid-season, forcing Henry to select on reputation rather than form.

"We'd like to find the good form we had in November as quickly as possible and then build on it," he said, taking a back-to-basics approach to training.

"We're trying to make sure our foundations are right from where we left off last year. If you start up the ladder a bit and think those things are there you have to come back and reinforce them."

Home club commitments have forced France to tour with a seriously understrength side, dubbed France "C" by sections of the New Zealand media, and they suffered further disruption Thursday when Julien Laharrague was dropped.

Initially named on the wing for Saturday's Test, Laharraque was sent packing when he and his brother Nicolas showed up late for a training session.

Nicolas Laharrague remains on the bench because there is no other flyhalf back-up, but the 28-year-old Julien has been replaced by Jean-Francois Coux.

Coux becomes the sixth debutant in the run-on side with another five on the bench, but despite their lack of Test experience, All Blacks co-coach Wayne Smith refused to label the French easy-beats.

"We are hopeful but you also have to be realistic," he said, pointing to the All Blacks' lack of preparation.

"No matter how well organised you are and how much you want to do it, it's hard to put a team together in four days."

Smith added that while the French players are largely unknown internationally, they are capable of producing the unexpected.

"And most of them would have a feeling that they have nothing to lose," he said.

"They are match-hardened and if they have a crack at us, you never know they might do well."

He also noted the handful of experienced players in the side who are capable of making a difference.

"They've got (Olivier) Magne and (Christian) Califano who have had success against the All Blacks and they're going to be saying 'it's a challenge, and it's a big one, but you never write a French team off.'"

But veteran flanker Magne, the sole survivor of France's come-from-behind 43-31 win over the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup semi-final, does not see a repeat upset.

"There is no chance," he said, joking that the French team was full of "boys and old men."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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