France rugby coach Philippe Saint-André called for an “uprising” from his side in Saturday’s 2015 World Cup quarterfinal against holders New Zealand. He may have got more than he bargained for.
Reports emerged on Thursday night that France’s players had stopped taking instructions from Saint-André and will effectively coach themselves in the crunch clash at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. According to French publication Le Nouvel Observateur, the team has lost faith in Saint-André, who has been in charge since 2012, and become disenchanted with his supposed lack of charisma.
It would be a remarkable development, although significantly less surprising for a rugby nation that has made a habit of such dramatic disharmony on the biggest stage. Indeed the same thing happened four years ago at the last World Cup, when coach Marc Lievremont was the victim of a revolt following a defeat to Tonga in the final match of the Pool stage. Players later confirmed that he subsequently remained coach in name only.
Yet, of all teams, there is reason for New Zealand not to react to the reported developments this time around with glee. They know full well the history France have not just for fostering such adversity, but thriving on it.
After all, in 2011, France went all the way to the final and so nearly spoiled New Zealand’s party on home soil in the final, losing by a single point. Four years before that the All Blacks weren’t so fortunate. Going into a quarterfinal meeting between the sides, New Zealand were overwhelming favorites, not just to beat France, but to go on and lift the trophy. France, meanwhile, had struggled playing on home soil, losing their opening match to Argentina. But France delivered on the day in a thrilling come-from-behind victory to stun New Zealand.
The similarities going into Saturday’s matchup are hard to ignore, and extend far beyond the fact that the venue for the contest will once again be Wales’ national stadium. On the back of poor showings in the last three Six Nations Championships, France’s performance in the Pool Stage of this World Cup only reinforced the impression that this was far from a vintage generation. In the crunch match to decide the winners of Pool D, Saint-André’s men were well beaten by Ireland on Sunday.
In contrast, New Zealand are once again coming in as the supreme force in rugby. The All Blacks have been unmoved at the top of the World Rugby Rankings for six years and, with a vastly experienced and talented squad, are favorites to become the first country ever to retain the World Cup. While not spectacular in the Pool Stage, they eased through to win all four matches. And coach Steve Hansen felt emboldened enough to utter a critique of his side’s next opponents in Thursday’s press conference.
“I'm not sure it's the same flair they've got now,” he said of France, reports the New Zealand Herald. “The Top 14 has become quite a dour competition ... I know they're trying to recapture that flair -- it's there, you can see it -- and when they let it loose it's definitely there. We'll be expecting them to play with flair and physicality."
“I'm not sure [why the flair has gone], you'll have to ask their coaches. Usually their coach has something to do with it.”
Hansen and New Zealand could yet discover those words to be all too accurate, if France, if they have effectively removed their coach, suddenly let loose on the All Blacks once again on Saturday.
Betting odds (via Oddschecker)
New Zealand win: 1/6
France win: 5/1
Prediction: France can never be written off, especially given the circumstances going into the game. And they may well be fired up and give a better of account of themselves than many expect. However, this is a France team that has failed to deliver for some time now, and New Zealand should come through without the need for any late drama.