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France in tune for shot at World Cup glory

France in tune for shot at World Cup glory

France is humming heading into the World Cup.
In three warmup games, the Six Nations champion conceded only one try, and stopped defending World Cup champion England crossing the line in winning 21-15 at Twickenham and 22-9 at Marseille.
The buildup was capped with a four-try romp against Wales that confirmed the host as the best side in the northern hemisphere and a genuine threat to become the first host to win the Cup in Europe.
For coach Bernard Laporte, the team's successful windup has him concerned only about choosing the best lineup for the tournament opener against Argentina next Friday at Stade de France. It's a good problem to have.
"It makes life hard for us," Laporte said. "But that's what we told the players: The more worries we have about the starting lineup, the more we are moving forward. There is rivalry, 30 players competing, and that is very good for the group."
Laporte didn't experiment as much as he wanted to during the Six Nations because the title was at stake, but the August warmups allowed him to try Toulouse winger Cedric Heymans at fullback and Stade Francais flyhalf David Skrela at center. Lionel Beauxis impressed in club teammate Skrela's position with accurate kicking, and the team showed its customary flair in attack.
Crucially for Laporte, the defense was also improved.
"We are coping well in defense," said No. 8 Sebastien Chabal, who with long dark hair, bushy beard and a rampaging style is sure to become a fan favorite during the tournament.
"We are well organized," Chabal added. "That is what we have worked on the most. We are getting stronger, we sense that."
France needs to start at its peak if it wants to improve on two World Cup final appearances. It features in the hardest pool. After meeting the Pumas, the Tricolors play Namibia then face Six Nations runner-up Ireland before finishing with Georgia. Only two in each group advance to the quarterfinals, and the winner will avoid meeting Cup favorite New Zealand in the quarterfinals.
"Everyone will be ready for the start of the competition," Chabal said.
They better be. If France can survive its group, it will be keen to avoid the All Blacks for as long as possible. The All Blacks ran in seven tries in a 47-3 victory in November, and thrashed France 45-6 at Stade de France in 2004. France's fragility was also exposed when it somehow lost to a generally toothless England in the Six Nations.
On a brighter note, the warmup matches allowed for the successful return of long-term absentees such as lock Fabien Pelous, prop Pieter de Villiers and flyhalf Frederic Michalak.
Hyped at the 2003 World Cup, Michalak flopped dismally in the 24-7 semifinal loss to England, but his physical freshness could make the 24-year-old a danger this time around. However, he will probably have to wait for his chance to impress against one of the weaker opponents in Group D because Laporte's halves pairing of Pierre Mignoni and Skrela was a highlight of the Six Nations triumph.
Clermont's Mignoni, a slippery, elusive scrumhalf with quick hands and a clever running game, appears to gel perfectly with Skrela, who blends a confident kicking game with perceptive passing.
In Pelous' extended absence this year, old friend and 2003 World Cup captain Raphael Ibanez took over as leader seamlessly. However, Ibanez was glad to have back Pelous, who passed Philippe Sella in August to become France's most capped player with 113 tests.
Flankers Serge Betsen and Imanol Harinordoquy are expected to make an impact. Betsen made 22 tackles against Wales, and Harinordoquy is a proven scorer with 10 international tries.
After naming its squad, France lost improving No. 8 Elvis Vermeulen and, crucially, 71-cap prop Sylvain Marconnet, who couldn't recover in time from a freak skiing accident in March which broke his leg.
A brimming Stade de France will be full to its 80,000 capacity when the Tricolors face Argentina, and fans will dream of a new hero nine years after Zinedine Zidane inspired Les Bleus to soccer's World Cup.
"It was the biggest event in France," Chabal said. "There were 10 million people out in Paris and on the Champs-Elysees. If we could do the same as the soccer team, then that support would be behind us too."


Updated : 2021-05-16 18:18 GMT+08:00