Cocooned French prepare for World Cup battle

Last updated 18:08 20/10/2011
Morgan Parra
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax Media
BATTLE LINES: France first five Morgan Parra.

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The battle lines have been drawn, the weapons selected, and now the French rugby team have thrown up a Gallic siege wall ahead of Sunday's World Cup final against New Zealand.

The French are sure to face a ferocious onslaught from an All Blacks side backed by a New Zealand public desperate to win the World Cup after 24 barren years.

France have found themselves cast as very much the villains ahead of the clash at Eden Park, as much for their turgid rugby as for the identity of their opponents.

But this pugnacious French side is determined to turn all the external negativity into a force to throw at the hosts as they bid to pull off one of the more unlikely upsets.

"For several weeks now it has been us against the world," France flyhalf Morgan Parra told reporters on Thursday. "We felt after beating England we might have some more support.

"We felt after beating Wales we might have some more support...but yet again, it is us against the world.

"So...we are trying to keep ourselves cocooned in this bubble. Some people are saying we don't deserve to be where we are.

"Criticism from supporters or from certain England and Wales players saying we don't belong in the final - that hurts," he added.

For one half of their quarter-final victory against England, France played the dashing, fluid rugby French sides have prided themselves on through the years.

TIGHTER UNIT

But, for the rest of their campaign, and never more so than in their scrappy 9-8 semi-final win over 14-man Wales, they have resorted to dull, staccato set-play and kicks, winning few fans along the way.

Even their own coach Marc Lievremont has been critical about their performances, creating yet more tension in the camp and drawing the ire of senior squad members.

All this, though, has simply served to make the squad a tighter unit.

"We are like a family now," scrumhalf Dimitri Yashvili told reporters. "We will have French support...all our families and our squad.

"We know we will be 15 players on the pitch against all the world, maybe."

Winger Vincent Clerc said the French had to be given some credit for their bellicose showing in New Zealand.

"This is the World Cup final...you can put some of it down to good fortune, but we are not here by chance or coincidence.

"We've been saying for some time we came here to be world champions and now we are in the final. We didn't come here to lose.

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"We understand only too well that the All Blacks are the favourites - somebody has to be the favourites.

"They will have a stadium jam-packed with New Zealanders - but we haven't played the match yet...they are not world champions yet.

"And I do not feel like I am in the skin of a loser... like somebody who cannot win. I don't feel like that at all. And it doesn't matter what happens before - only what happens on Sunday counts.

"We are in our bubble. Not many people believe in us, but we do not want to miss this opportunity."

- AP

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