All Blacks aim to end losing streak against France

France coach Marc Lievremont says beating New Zealand in Saturday’s rugby Test would prove that France is close to matching the world’s top sides while knocking the All Blacks’ confidence in the final meeting between the teams until the 2011 World Cup.

A win for France in Marseille would give the home side three wins from the last four meetings against the All Blacks, including an unexpected victory in New Zealand in June.

The sides will not play each other again until the group stage of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Even though New Zealand has won all four of its autumn tour games, Lievremont tried to pile on the pressure on Henry’s team.

“We know the huge intensity they will put into this match. It’s their last match of the season and it will be on this match that they are judged, on this match that they will get an idea about the World Cup,” Lievremont said. “We have a lot of young players coming into the squad who have a lot less experience than New Zealand’s players.”

New Zealand boasts world stars like flyhalf Daniel Carter and flanker Richie McCaw, but Lievremont said Henry has doubts over the depth of his squad when key players are out.

“To beat them this Saturday would be to strike a big blow,” Lievremont said on Thursday.

France comes into the game in confident mood after beating South Africa 20-13 and thrashing Samoa 43-5, while New Zealand heads to Stade Velodrome on the back of consecutive wins against Australia, Wales, Italy and England.

“There is no favorite for this match, we are even,” France lock Sebastien Chabal said.
“To beat them now would be to send a strong signal out to the rugby world. It could give them something to think about. People talk about South Africa, but New Zealand are just as tough as them. There is nothing stereotypical about the way they play.”

In June, France beat New Zealand 27-22 in Dunedin and narrowly lost the second test 14-10 in Wellington the following week. At the 2007 World Cup, the French produced a stunning second-half comeback to win their quarterfinal match 20-18.

“I do think it counts. I think it’s especially important for them,” Lievremont said. “I’m not trying to put pressure on them, or take it off us, but it’s true that over the last two years France has won two out of three games.”

Lievremont is also determined to send out a strong sign that France can be a factor at the next World Cup.

“It’s the last time we’ll meet before the World Cup, where the two teams will be in the same group,” he said. “This is an essential match for them to round off their season successfully.

They have come back to their best level.”

Henry has made three changes from the team that beat England 19-6.

“They’re a very good side, the French. We respect them,” Henry said.

Prop Neemia Tialata wins his 41st cap in place of Owen Franks, blindside flanker Jerome Kaino comes in for Adam Thomson, and Cory Jane takes Zac Guildford’s slot on the right wing.

“You can see they respect us by looking at the team they’ve picked. They have strengthened their back row,” Lievremont said.

“The French team is gaining in strength and we hope to confirm that on Saturday.”

France has won eight out of nine test matches it has played in Marseille, beating South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand (42-33 in 2000), with its only loss coming against Argentina (24-14 in 2004).

“They are a passionate crowd, as you can see when the team plays football there. Even though they’re not used to having France in their back garden, they’re happy when we come,” France captain Thierry Dusautoir said. “When we play there we really feel the fervor and passion. It’s very important to feel the fans are behind us.”—Sapa-AP

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