IF SOMEONE had told me a few weeks ago that France would be in the World Cup final I would have said: ‘No chance’. They lost to Tonga in the pool stage and they probably should have gone out, yet they are 80 minutes away from lifting the trophy. It’s incredible.
It is also very similar to England’s 2007 World Cup. They were thrashed by South Africa early on, there was in-fighting and discontent in the squad, but the players turned it around and reached the final. Ultimately they narrowly lost that match in Paris, however, and I think France will fare exactly the same against New Zealand on Sunday. They will make it difficult but there is no way in my mind that they will play well enough to win.
Wales were better than them in the semi-final but suffered from the sending-off of Sam Warburton, which was the wrong decision. I don’t think there was malicious intent in the tackle and I don’t think it was dangerous; in my opinion the law needs to be looked at.
I think, in their minds, the French have succeeded already. They’ve had their final, they’ve proved their coach and everyone else wrong; now they’re going to turn up, play a bit of rugby and just enjoy themselves. I don’t think they’re thinking they have to win this.
All the pressure is on hosts the All Blacks, who haven’t always dealt with that well, but I think this side is strong enough to cope. They’ve got firepower, experienced players, Richie McCaw’s a great captain, and Piri Weepu seems to be a real leader for them.
Their big issue for this game is the unknown – what if they have someone sent off, or if Weepu’s kicking is inconsistent? What if they get rattled? It’s only an outside chance, yet it could happen.
But they’ve come so far that I don’t think they will falter at the last hurdle. They have the ball a lot and will benefit from the fact that attacking sides are favoured in the southern hemisphere, while I think France will struggle to go forward with Dimitri Yachvili and Morgan Parra closed down and Imanol Harinordoquy matched up front.
The most just outcome would be a New Zealand win – it’s just a shame Wales aren’t their opponents in the final.
Follow World Cup winner Kyran Bracken on Twitter at @kyranbracken and @weare4rugby. Kyran was speaking courtesy of GamePlan Solutions: managing high profile and popular sport stars; speakers, leaders, motivators and ambassadors www.gameplansolutions.co.uk
As published in City AM on 21st October 2011