‘The Battle is long gone; The flag is Unfurled’. New Zealand has vowed to give their best performance in the Cup and win it handsomely. France is clearly staring at a round barrel with no opening, and it is rolling towards them.
The All Blacks take pride in the shade of their inspirational skipper Richie McCaw, who has turned into an outstanding leader according to Coach Graham Henry. Richie, incidentally missed a match in the group stage due to thigh injury and there were speculation over his availability at the business end when flanker Matt Todd was spotted in the ranks. He has held on, thankfully for All Blacks, as he was their skipper in 2007 Rugby World Cup and also played in the 2003 version. Experience clearly counts.
Ironically, it was bland leadership in 2007 when a drop kick in the final moments could have turned the table on France in the quarterfinals. They lost by mere 2 points while a drop kick carries three points. This time, they have learnt the value of drop kicks as a great alternative for tries. Aaron Cruden was the latest converter against Australia in the semifinals. Their capability in breakdowns and scrum has been brilliant. Piri Weepu has been magical with his penalties and Dagg and Smith have played like wizards.
France, meanwhile, lost two matches in the group stage, including one to fellow finalists. Les Blues then had a great match against England but somehow rolled over Wales in the semifinals by one point. Their scrum play has left a lot to be desired. There is lack of mobility at crucial moments and not enough determination in the closing stages. There is tension written on French coach Marc Lieuvremont’s face.
Henry said he has learnt not to take one match at a time, but he would love to, when t come to the biggest match in 4 years.