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France relaxed before semi-final
November 14, 2003 16:16 IST
France are brimming with composure, spirit and confidence before their big northern hemisphere decider against England in the rugby World Cup semi-finals on Sunday.
"Our first objective was to win our four pool matches with a bonus point, we did it. Our second objective was to reach the last four and to meet England," said team manager Jo Maso.
"We prepared as well as we could, we played as well as we could. We have the feeling that from now on we are going to play for a bonus, a huge bonus maybe. It's rather nice."
In their Bondi Beach retreat, a two-minute walk away from one of the most famous beaches in the world, the French did not change their routine one iota during the week. Gym in the morning, videos in the early afternoon, training at the end of the day and complete freedom in between.
"Since the start of the tournament, we have enjoyed quite a lot of freedom. Everything went smoothly and I think it suits our team," said hooker Raphael Ibanez, who captained France when they reached the final of the 1999 World Cup.
Team doctor Thierry Hermerel said he was going through a very quiet week. His only patients were lock Jerome Thion, who had 21 micro-stitches in his lip, and centre Yannick Jauzion, who suffered a bruised leg.
Until Friday, the team stayed as available for the media as they had been since the start of the tournament: coach and manager on Monday, eight players on Tuesday, the 22-man line-up on Wednesday, seven more players including the captain on Thursday.
Maso admitted he had a scare on Tuesday when the team's hotel was invaded by scores of Australian and English reporters and cameramen who had ignored the French up to then.
Flyhalf Frederic Michalak and centre Tony Marsh were the prime targets.
Marsh, because he speaks English and overcame cancer. Michalak because he is the great revelation of the World Cup and all the British journalists wanted his comments on Jonny Wilkinson's apparent troubles.
"Sure, it's a bit surprising but rather entertaining", said the 21-year-old flyhalf after passing the test with the assurance of a veteran.
Coach Bernard Laporte side-stepped a war of words with England, saying he had great respect for Clive Woodward. Woodward replied saying the respect was mutual.
The French coach spent hours analysing videos.
"Video session are quite useful and Bernard led us to like them. We are looking for details that will allow us to set up the right tactics as we managed to do it before the Ireland game. said captain Fabien Galthie.
The 34-year-old scrumhalf, playing in his final Cup, was in a convivial mood whereas he had been gloomy before the quarter-finals.
"There is no equivalent for this World Cup experience. I had the same feeling in 2002 when we won our Six Nations grand slam," he said.
"The 1999 World Cup was extraordinary because we shocked the world with our win over New Zealand in the semi-final but it also was chaotic."
"This time we are more focused. We are living our 16th week together. Life is easy because we enjoy being together and because we play better and better."
"Once again, we are facing the favourites in the semi-final but I think we have the all-round strengths to reach the final and maybe win the Cup."