The All Blacks will be extremely wary following reports French players have shunned coach Philippe Saint-Andre and are effectively coaching themselves going into their Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
French media outlet L’obs Sport reported the French squad had “discreetly dismissed” Saint-Andre and suggested senior players had a hand in selection changes for Saturday’s match against New Zealand at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium – for which veteran halfback Morgan Parra was recalled and centre Mathieu Bastareaud dropped.
With only a source close to the players quoted – and some earlier provocative hints in other French media – it was difficult to be certain whether the French revolution was fact or perhaps wishful thinking by some desperate to see the team fire up.
If true, the move has strong echoes of the 2011 World Cup where a struggling and unhappy French team came back from an embarrassing pool match loss to Tonga to reach the final where they scared the daylights out of the All Blacks before succumbing.
Back-rower Imanol Harinordoquy indicated after that tournament the team had rebelled against coach Marc Lievremont and effectively managed themselves in the knockout rounds.
The criticism of Saint-Andre, according L’obs Sport, was that he lacked charisma and he was viewed as a good guy but not as a leader of men.
“Some go for the match against the All Blacks with leaden feet, already beaten,” it said.
For his part Saint-Andre was in defiant mood at a pre-match press conference on Thursday.
“If there’s not an uprising for this match, you must change sport,” said Saint-Andre.
“If we want to beat New Zealand, we will have to play the French way.
“We’re getting ready for a massive battle.
“We know we’ll have to improve our up-front game and take more individual initiatives.”
Earlier this week French newspaper Midi Olympique published a picture of lock Yoann Maestri appearing to shoulder barge Saint-Andre in the players’ tunnel after the 24-9 defeat by Ireland last weekend which consigned them to a clash with title favourites New Zealand.
defeat to Ireland.
Rival newspaper L’equipe, meanwhile, carried a headline on its front page which read “L’appel a la revolte”, or “A call to revolt”.
Saturday’s encounter is a rematch of sorts. The All Blacks lost to France in a World Cup quarter-final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2007 and coach Steve Hansen wants no repeat.
“We’re exactly where we want to be, playing a quarter-final at Millennium Stadium. It’s finals footy and we’re hugely excited by that,” Hansen said.
“We’re a team that enjoys a challenge, we’ve had a great week’s preparation and it’s now about putting it out on the park.”
Despite the memory of 2007, Hansen said this team was about “making its own history” in what he predicted would be an intense match.
“The French will be very physical and both teams have plenty to play for.”