There’s no shortage of historical reference points to show why France’s quarter-final showdown with defending champions New Zealand will be anything but an enthralling and intriguing battle.
Les Bleus enter today’s clash at the Millennium Stadium on the back of a dismal 24-9 defeat against Ireland in their final pool game and face an All Blacks side who breezed through the group phase on cruise-control.
The French, however, know more than most about what it takes to upset the form book.
Their record of 42 defeats in 55 tests against New Zealand certainly paints a sorry picture, but momentous victories in the 2007 quarter-finals and the 1999 semis tells a different story entirely, with the mighty All Blacks choking in the face of their opponents’ renowned gallic flair.
“It’s the kind of game you dream of when you’re a kid,” head coach Philippe Saint-Andre enthused, adding that his side must play the French way if they are to have any chance of another famous upset.
Serge Blanco, the mercurial full-back who led France to the 1987 final – which they lost to New Zealand – made the point even more succinctly.
“We can do it because we’re French,” he told reporters.
France flanker Yannick Nyanga, who was also a member of the 2007 squad, is anxious for a repeat.
“You need a bit of anger and a bit of fear in any rugby match; that’s how you surpass yourself. New Zealand are the best team in the world. If we played them 10 times we’d lose nine. But there’s always this one time.”
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is preparing his side to cover all the angles despite the All Blacks having won all of the last eight meetings between the teams.
“France have always had great athletes. Their game was built around flair in the backs and real physicality up front,” Hansen said.
“I know that they’re trying to recapture that flair, which is there, you can see it.”
Hansen has picked an experienced side, featuring four men to have been named World Player of the Year in Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read.
McCaw was rested from the final pool game against Tonga because of a sore hip but returns at openside flanker to win his 146th cap.
France, meanwhile, welcome back scrum-half Morgan Parra among three changes from the team beaten by Ireland.
Playing today: 17.00 South Africa vs Wales; 21.00 New Zealand vs France.
Tomorrow: 14.00 Ireland vs Argentina; 17.00 Australia vs Scotland.