This is THE meeting we've been talking about for months: Friday evening (9:15 p.m.) at the Stade de France, the French XV will launch their World Cup at home. And when we listen to rugby fans, the opinions are (almost) unanimous: “New Zealand is not what it used to be”; “With Antoine Dupont we are going to give them thirty.” As if the Kiwi nation were an ordinary opponent, and not the greatest rugby country of all time. So be careful not to get complacent.
When we talk about the All Blacks, certain elements must be taken into account: 3 victories in the World Cup, the last of which in 2015. With in particular a quarter-final in Cardiff sounding like the most humiliating defeat in the history of the XV of France (62-13), and one of the highest levels of rugby ever displayed. Some of our tormentors are still in the New Zealand XV, like hooker Dane Coles or scrum half Aaron Smith. This collective experience and this culture of winning therefore remain well anchored in this selection.
Fabien Galthié, the coach of the Blues, was not mistaken when asked about the subject after the French victory against Australia (41-17): "Whatever the times, New Zealanders remain the All Blacks, three-time World Cup winners and multiple Four Nations winners. Since rugby has existed, it's been the best team in the world. So, on September 8, we will have the best team in the world in front of us. Enough to put the church back in the center of the village.
Rugby: Who will win the World Cup?
Certainly, the All Blacks lost their last preparation match against South Africa by a large score (35-7). The heaviest defeat of all time. A historic slap in the face which gave their detractors food for thought. But how can we imagine for a second that they would repeat this kind of performance in the World Cup? This competition is in their DNA, and it's not a defeat that will change everything, as their coach Ian Foster recalled: “We are confident. It didn't seem like it against South Africa, and I know we got a good spanking, but we don't hide it. The Blacks group brings together both experience and new international-class players like Ardi Savea, dubbed by former Black captain Richie McCaw: “He is in the form of his life and has a big influence”. So be careful.
Don't underestimate the All Blacks. But also be careful not to overestimate this XV of France. Despite a convincing victory against Australia for their last warm-up match (41-17), it is difficult to ignore a first half during which Fabien Galthié's men showed little inspiration, and greatly benefited bankruptcy at the foot of Carter Gordon (Australian striker, 1/6). It's also hard not to think of all those injuries who have been so important for the Blues in recent years: doing without Ntamack, Danty, Baille and Willemse will not be so easy. So certainly, this XV of France in form and at home is a favorite. But as Richie McCaw says so well, "The XV of France is not unbeatable"...