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France 'best in the world on their day' - Henry
MARC HINTON IN AUCKLAND
Contrary to popular opinion, this is a very good French rugby team. Or at least they have the capability to be very good.
That was the view of All Blacks coach Graham Henry who yesterday described Marc Lievremont's band of dysfunctional winners and occasional grinners as a side that could be "the best in the world on their day".
Clearly the All Blacks coach, who admitted to being somewhat stressed out before and during Sunday's semifinal victory over the Wallabies, is a little concerned about the hype - or lack of it - around this final.
The bookies give the French next to no chance. The pundits have an only slightly more generous view of Les Bleus' prospects.
The All Blacks simply can't afford to share that viewpoint, never mind the evidence before their eyes.
Asked his view on French rugby in general, Henry described their domestic competition as "very physical" but one where that physicality perhaps dominated skill. In terms of the French team, "well they can be the best in the world on their day.
''Although they didn't play particularly well in their semifinal we know they've got the ability to play outstanding rugby.
"They will have nothing to lose and will play well."
These could be interpreted as hollow words, as a coach just using a motivational ploy to keep his men on edge ahead of a defining game. But Henry, of course, knows what it's like to be ambushed by the French on a big occasion.
Four years ago no-one gave the French much chance in their quarterfinal in Cardiff either. But with barely 30 percent of the pill they caused one of the great World Cup upsets.
Over his eight years in charge Henry has only lost twice to the French - that night in Cardiff, and in Dunedin a couple of years ago. He calls the Cardiff defeat "the most bizarre game I've ever been involved in ... the boys respect the French team, they've got a lot of very talented players, so it will be a big final..
"We don't underestimate the ability of the French."
Henry reported "nothing serious" on the injury front, with Ma'a Nonu nursing a stinger on his shoulder and Cory Jane and Andy Ellis both copping blows on their beaks. Piri Weepu was also coming off a virus that tested his resolve on Sunday night.
And, for the record, Henry is over the moon about the appointment of South Africa's Craig Joubert to referee the final.
"He's a very good referee, relates well to the players, is very clear in his instruction, has got a lot of composure and has developed as one of the top refs in the world. It's pleasing because the players enjoy playing when he's referee, and that's a sign of a good ref."
- © Fairfax NZ News