New Zealand will meet France in next week’s Rugby World Cup final, intent on a repeat of its victory in the 1987 championship decider rather than defeats in 1999 and 2007 at the hands of the European team.
“There’s a bit of history there,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said last night at Auckland’s Eden Park after his team’s semifinal win over Australia. “We’ve had some good times playing against them and we’ve had not so good times.”
The All Blacks extended their winning run at Eden Park, which will host the Oct. 23 final, to 26 matches with a 20-6 victory over the Wallabies. France, which was the last team to beat New Zealand at the stadium in 1994, defeated Wales 9-8 in the first semifinal two days ago.
Top-ranked New Zealand won by 20 points when the teams met on Sept. 24 in a Pool A match, one of two losses for France in the group stage. The French, who were also upset by Tonga, rebounded by beating England and Wales to become the first nation to reach a World Cup final after two losses.
France, ranked fifth by the International Rugby Board, eliminated the All Blacks twice in World Cup knockout games, including a win in the 2007 quarterfinals.
“That game caused some people a lot of pain,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said today at a news conference at the team’s Auckland hotel. “There’s history in All Black-French Rugby World Cup games.”
New Zealand is the NZ$1.08 favorite to win the match, according to local bookmaker TAB, meaning a successful NZ$1 (80 cents) bet returns a profit of 8 New Zealand cents. France is the NZ$7 outsider.
The All Blacks, who won their only World Cup by beating France 24 years ago, need to come down from yesterday’s victory before focusing on the final, according to their coach.
“You can’t stay up there,” said Henry, who has won 85 percent of his matches in charge of New Zealand. “We’ve got to get to base again, a clean sheet of paper and build again. Although they didn’t play particularly well in their semifinal, we know they’ve got the ability to play outstanding rugby.”
The 20-18 loss to France in Cardiff, Wales, four years ago led to calls for Henry to be fired. He was reappointed following a review. McCaw captained the team that day and was also criticized for failing to change tactics.
At the 1999 World Cup, France rallied from 14 points down early in the second half to oust tournament favorite New Zealand 43-31 in a semifinal played at Twickenham, London.
“We know that you can never write them off,” said All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden, who became the team’s first-choice playmaker after groin injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade. “People had written them off this tournament but they have made the final and are dangerous.”
The 1987 final was one of the good times. The inaugural tournament, also in New Zealand, pitted the All Blacks against France and the home side won 29-9 at Eden Park.
Next week will be France’s 10th Test match against the All Blacks at the Auckland stadium. They have two wins there and also defeated New Zealand in Dunedin two years ago.
“We are not going to get ahead of ourselves,” McCaw said. “We have given ourselves a chance.”
Australia coach Robbie Deans, a New Zealander, expects his home country to end its 24-year wait between world titles.
“They are more than capable of winning,” Deans told reporters. “They are hungry. They’ll take some stopping from here.”