AUCKLAND, Newzealand October 17 – New Zealand was at peace with itself after the All Blacks savaged Australia to power into a World Cup final where they will start as overwhelming favourites against France.
But the All Blacks swept away any doubts with a masterful 20-6 defeat of the Wallabies to set-up what will be a re-match of the inaugural World Cup final this coming Sunday which, then as now, was staged at Eden Park.
The All Blacks were too strong for France in 1987, winning 29-9, and have given every indication they will be again in the climax of this World Cup.
France have been tagged the worst team in the tournament’s history to qualify for the showpiece match after clinging to a 9-8 win over 14-man Wales in Saturday’s other semi-final.
But New Zealand coach Graham Henry, all but vindicated after surviving calls to be sacked following the team’s shattering World Cup quarter-final loss four years ago, has tried to temper the national euphoria.
“The job hasn’t been done yet,” Henry said. “I think it’s really important that we understand that and that we get our feet back on the ground over the next two days and build again for this test.
“It’s a huge game of rugby. We’ve got a lot of history with France in the Rugby World Cup and we respect them.”
New Zealand have conquered France once already in this tournament, during a 37-17 pool win, but Henry will need no reminding ‘Les Bleus’ remain a World Cup bogey team for the All Blacks.
New Zealand fans were inconsolable after a stunning 20-18 loss to France in the 2007 quarter-finals in Cardiff.
Previously, France denied the All Blacks an appearance in the 1999 final with an incredible fightback to win 43-31 at Twickenham.
While the All Blacks’ Eden Park fortress remains all but impregnable, it was France who were the last visting team to win in Auckland in 1994, sealing victory with the breathtaking ‘try from the end of the world’, one of rugby’s greatest all-time scores.
France continue to thrive despite a combination of player unrest and challenges to coach Marc Lievremont’s authority that would have destabilised many other sides.
No sooner had Lievremont defiantly insisted France were worthy of a place in the final, despite Wales scoring the only try of the match when a man down, than he was publicly castigating his players for defying team orders and partying on after their semi-final win.
“I asked the players not to go out and I learned a little later some of them did,” Lievremont said.
“We spoke about this and I told them what I thought of them, that they were selfish, disobedient and that for four years they have been on my case. But at the end of the day it won’t stand in the way that we are in the final.”
It is in this madcap environment Lievremont, who is being replaced as France coach by fellow former international Philippe Saint-Andre in December, will somehow have to prepare his players to beat New Zealand — a result virtually the whole rugby world thinks beyond them.
“We’ve been extremely lucky. I think there are a lot of people amazed to see us qualify and think we are not talented. But we play with our hearts,” said France captain Thierry Dusautoir.
Meanwhile, Australia and Wales will have to cast aside their dejection and back up for Friday’s bronze medal match at Eden Park.