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With the Rugby World Cup Final just days away, the French seem an unfit match for New Zealand’s strong team. France making it into the Rugby World Cup was an unusual feat. The team lost greatly to New Zealand in the group stage, were defeated by Tonga and were anything but convincing in their victories over both Japan and Canada.
In fact, even the Rugby minnows of Japan and Canada gave the French a torrid time, with Les Bleus looking weak in defence, and lacking the attacking flair that they have become renowned for. Things barely improved for France’s head coach, Marc Lievremont, and his team during the knockout round.
Many people were predicting that even an out-of-sorts England side were record an easy victory over them at the Quarter-Final stage. Although England had been heavily criticized for their performances thus far, very few predicted the abysmal outing they’d have against the French.
Not even the loud renditions of ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ from England’s faithful travelling fans could summon up any kind of success for the English players on the field. France defeated England to enter the semi-finals. Arguably it was also no great performance from France that led them to defeat Wales in the Semi-Final.
Welsh team captain, Sam Warburton, was controversially red carded early in the game, leaving Wales at a numerical disadvantage for the majority of the match. Even with this penalty, Wales still came close to winning the game on several occasions, and was only through the standout performances of a few defensive players, such as France captain, Thierry Dusatoir, that France was able to win.
It is not a surprise to see New Zealand in the Finals. Although perhaps not looking at their sublime best throughout the tournament, the New Zealand All Blacks have put in performances at every stage of the tournament so far, and have never looked in danger of being knocked out of the race. That being said, the home nation does have several issues to contend with.
New Zealand dealt with the loss of talismanic fly-half and playmaker, Daniel Carter. Carter suffered from a groin injury in training during the group stage of the season. This injury placed Carter on the side lines. The loss of such a strong player has caused anxiety all over the rugby obsessed country. Carter’s replacement, Colin Slade, was also injured.
Slade was struck with an almost identical injury as Carter during New Zealand’s Quarter-Final match against Argentina. New Zealand was then forced to call on their third choice fly-half, Aaron Cruden, to step onto the field. Cruden, who had not expected to play, had spent much of the off-season skateboarding rather than playing rugby.
Fortunately for Kiwi’s worldwide, Cruden stepped up well in their Semi-Final victory over Australia. Some would argue that the biggest threat New Zealand will have to contend with in the World Cup match is themselves. Accepted almost unanimously as the best team in world rugby for the majority of the last 25 years, the All Blacks have a tendency to ‘choke’ at the big moment.
Of the six World Cups they’ve contended in, New Zealand has won just one, albeit being favorites the majority of the time. New Zealand team captain, Richie McCaw, has been quick to dispel any theories people have about New Zealand being over-confident and taking France for granted.
When the two sides meet at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday, it will not be for the first time. In the 1987 Rugby World Cup Final, New Zealand comfortably beat France 29-9. Although their seasons suggest a similar outcome this time around, fans of both teams eagerly await the outcome of Sunday’s match.
Image Courtesy of http://www.rugbyworldcup.com