19 Oct

How To Beat The French
by Paul Waite
19 Oct 2011

The All Blacks have ample experience of losing to the French in test matches, especially those of the crucial World Cup variety, so they should be in a great position to know how to beat them. Let’s explore that here, ourselves.

The "unpredictable French" cliché, predictably, has been done to death and then some in the media this week. Sadly it isn’t a cliché, it’s just a fact. France might turn up on Sunday and simply not fire a shot, or they could suddenly go apeshit and run in 5 tries in 15 minutes.

But looking back at those painful test losses against our World Cup nemesis, there has always been a trigger point of reward, in the form of a points-scoring foray, which has fired the French side up into one of those performance frenzies only they are capable of.

So the real key to beating the French lies in defence, both up front and in the backs, to prevent that trigger point occurring. And given France are probably the only nation I would say could win a test through their backs even if we were shading them up front, that defence has to be water-tight out wide as well.

The All Blacks have to at least duplicate the passion and shear workrate across the XV that they brought to the semi-final against Australia, and once again for the full 80 minutes. The difference this time is that they have to breach the French lines, open them up and score tries early on. The small margin we saw against Australia won’t be enough.

Key areas we need to target in the backs are of course the halves Yachvili and Parra. We need to shut down their space and stop them firing up their backline.

Linked to that area is the ever-important loose-forward battle. There the French are very strong with skipper Dusautoir leading the powerful Harinordoquy, and the electric openside Bonnaire. But in Kaino, McCaw, and Read the All Blacks have what I believe to be the World’s best loose-forward trio. It should be a fascinating, and bruising battle at the breakdown, and in general play.

The scrum is another area where I expect dominance from the men in Black. The French outfit is not weak by any means, but our unit is hitting its straps at the right time. Woodcock is back to full fitness, Owen Franks is getting better and better, and both our hookers are World class. Behind them with Brad Thorn providing the grunt of a locomotive, and Whitlock we don’t lack for power. Add in the Mike Cron factor and you have a unit which is drilled better than any other.

A key test to look at with regard to tackling the French side is the quarter-final against Wales, who showed that they are by no means supermen. The way they took them on is similar to the way we will. It essentially boils down to doing the basics, moving the ball accurately through the phases probing for space and gaps. And on defence bringing them to deck hard.

The only caveat with the Welsh game is the sending off. As Thierry Lacroix mentioned on a TV show yesterday, the red carding of Sam Warburton for Wales actually messed up the French as well as Wales. They went from being fired up to take Wales on and beat them, to a mindset of making sure they didn’t blow the advantage and lose. It sounds screwy, but I take it from him (he talked to the team) that this is the way they thought.

If so then we will see a much more positive and challenging French team hitting the All Blacks with all they have got this Sunday. They will attempt to come out and knock them off their stride. A reward at this point in the form of a try or so will only let them gather confidence. That simply can’t be allowed to happen.

The All Blacks have to hit the French hard back, not leak any points whilst putting their own on the board. It’s not exactly rocket science, but in this particular test match it is essential the All Black establish not only dominance, but a decent lead by half-time.

And even with a 20 point lead, no New Zealander should feel safe until they are counting down that final minute.

Oh, and if the All Blacks win by the same scoreline of 29 – 9 as they did in 1987, then I’m going down to the video shop and rent out the complete series of The Twilight Zone.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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