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France face tough Irish test

November 09, 2003 06:51 IST

Dismissed as outsiders before the rugby World Cup 2003 began, France should learn in Sunday's quarter-final against Ireland if they really could become the first northern hemisphere side to win the tournament.

To reach the last eight of a World Cup is no special achievement for the French who moved on to the last four in 1995, and to the final in 1987 and 1999, and failed only once in the quarter-finals in 1991.

But never before have they reached the quarter-finals with such ease and composure.

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After three months of preparation, they found their best team from the opening game and quietly disposed of pool B opponents Fiji, Japan, Scotland, and the United States, resting their first XV for the last game and keeping their back-up players involved.

The team has been spared injuries, the gamble on Tony Marsh recovering from cancer paid off, captain Fabien Galthie is back to his best, and the arrival of Frederic Michalak has solved a long-lasting flyhalf and goalkicking problem.

Despite such a smooth ride through the pool games, team manager Jo Maso spent the week asking the players to concentrate.

"Ireland always poses us problems," he said. "A quarter-final always is a special occasion. It's the first knockout game.

"The Ireland match is the one not to lose. If we do, afterwards life stops. While if you reach the semi-finals, you have accomplished your main mission and will now play for glory."

Galthie said he was expecting a rugged contest against "very strong forwards and very good backs who have no feeble points, no weak points".

He added: "We are expecting to win. When you play a quarter-final you want just to win the match, nothing more."

Ireland's stirring one-point loss to Australia last weekend stunned some observers, but barely impressed the French.

"Recently Ireland have been playing with a lot of desire and enthusiasm and, as usual, they never give up," coach Bernard Laporte said.

"However, it has to be said as well that they switch between the good and the less good. You can see their match against Australia in two ways -- either it will have given them a lot of confidence or they have played their best shot."

Asked about France's 15-12 defeat the last time the two sides met, at Lansdowne Road in March during the Six Nations Championship, his answer was blunt: "The Irish didn't win that game because they never made three passes in a row. We lost that game because we were damn stupid."

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan disagrees. "We have played France four times in recent years and won three," he said. "The thing is, when you play a world-class team like France, if we get things right on the day, it's possible to win the game, but if we get it wrong on the day we could get a good hiding.

"Sunday is no different, but having beaten France on occasion feeds into the belief that we can go out and do it again."

Teams:
France -- 15 Nicolas Brusque, 14 Aurelien Rougerie, 13 Tony Marsh, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Christophe Dominici, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Fabien Galthie (c), 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Olivier Magne, 6 Serge Betsen, 5 Jerome Thion, 4 Fabien Pelous, 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 Raphael Ibanez, 1 Jean-Jacques Crenca.

Replacements: 16 Yannick Bru, 17 Olivier Milloud, 18 Olivier Brouzet, 19 Patrick Tabacco, 20 Gerald Merceron, 21 Brian Liebenberg, 22 Pepito Elhorga.

Ireland -- 15 Girvan Dempsey, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Kevin Maggs, 11 John Kelly, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Victor Costello, 7 Keith Gleeson, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Malcolm O'Kelly, 3 John Hayes, 2 Keith Wood (c), 1 Reggie Corrigan.

Replacements: 16 Shane Byrne, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Donnacha O'Callaghan, 19 Eric Miller, 20 Guy Easterby, 21 David Humphreys, 22 Anthony Horgan.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).

Jean-Paul Couret in Melbourne
Source:
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