French players involved in the national team’s semifinal exit at the last World Cup have vowed to do their best to prevent it happening again when they meet Wales on Saturday.
Twelve of France’s 30 players at this World Cup lived through the disappointment of four years ago on home soil, with nine in the match-day 22 and three in the starting XV: wing Vincent Clerc and flankers Julien Bonnaire and Thierry Dusautoir, who will captain the side at Auckland’s Eden Park this weekend.
After pulling off a shock 20-18 victory over favourites New Zealand in the 2007 quarterfinal in Cardiff, the French imploded in the semifinal against England, who went on to lose to South Africa in the final.
This time around, France advanced from their pool having suffered defeats by the All Blacks and Tonga, the latter after a shocking display overshadowed by rumours of rifts between management and the players.
They defied the critics by then rebounding to beat England 19-12 in last week’s quarterfinal, having been knocked out of the last two World Cups by their old rivals.
But the French, losing finalists in 1987 and 1999 but yet to win the World Cup, quickly realised they had to keep a lid on any celebrations.
“We spoke about it as soon as the whistle went,” Dusautoir said of the team’s achievement of reaching the final four.
“There are many of us in the squad who went through 2007, we know very well what can happen after an excess of euphoria.”
Hooker Dimitri Szarzewski added: “We all had enormous regrets after that 2007 match against England. We couldn’t wait for the next World Cup.
“We have some problems but we must not let this chance to get into the final escape us.”
Centre Aurelien Rougerie said it was a question of the team “coming down from our little cloud” after progressing into the semifinals.
“I had the opportunity of living through 2007, even off the pitch because I wasn’t playing,” the Clermont veteran said.
“Against the All Blacks, it was a little like an early final. Afterwards, we were too euphoric, training fell off a little, but it’s not at all like that today.
Flanker Bonnaire said the French reaction to reaching the semifinals this time round was tempered by the knowledge the troubled England side they beat last Sunday were not in the same league as the New Zealand team of four years ago.
“At the time, the All Blacks were unbeaten for a number of matches,” he said.
“This time around, we’re keeping our feet firmly on the ground with a great desire to continue the adventure.”
The best team at the moment
France coach Marc Lievremont, mirroring the selection policy of predecessor Bernard Laporte in 2007, named an unchanged team for the semi despite concerns over player fatigue.
“It’s tough to change a winning team,” said Szarzewski. “Compared to 2007, after the match against the All Blacks, we felt much more done in. Personally, I feel much less exhausted than in 2007.”
The hooker, currently plying second fiddle to Toulouse stalwart William Servat, warned the danger now would be to underestimate Wales.
“We’ve won against them over the last three years but it’s not the same team,” he said.
“They’ve had a remarkable run in this World Cup. I’ve got the impression that it’s the best team of the moment.”
Bonnaire added: “We know we haven’t got there yet. Our goal wasn’t a quarterfinal, our goal is to be world champions.” — AFP
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