Pool D - France
Bernard Laporte has taken away what people love about French rugby - flare and off-the-cuff play. France are now disciplined and structured in play. Home advantage is significant for France. Should they play well, fans will get behind them; perform poorly and Laporte and his players will feel the wrath of a demanding and fickle crowd who have previously turned nasty. This makes the opening game against Argentina all the more crucial for France. Perhaps foolishly, Laporte has banked on older players like Betsen and Jauzion returning to the form of two seasons ago - a big ask and huge responsibility.
France has problems with De Villiers' fitness and the loss of experienced prop Marquinez through injury. Michalak could be the key for France depending on his fitness and whether he has the same flare as he did two years ago. France can certainly top Pool D and reach the final. France's ability to beat New Zealand is questionable, and there is a psychological barrier having suffered massive defeats to the All Blacks in recent years.
Coach: Bernard Laporte (FR)
Captain: Raphael Ibanez
IRB Ranking: 3
Appearances: 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003
Odds to win: 10/1
Number of clubs: 1720
Number of Registered players: 212,059
Matches MT W D L
29 22 1 5
Points For Against
Scores Tr Con Pen DG
115 79 86 8
The darling of Sale and the agressor of the French team, ‘Mountain Man' Chabal has the ability to unlock most defences. He may be slightly overrated because he is loose and lazy off the ball but is extremely strong and can get ocross the gain line first allowing other players to flow on to the ball. While he will struggle to start he remains a key as an impact player.
Big and strong, Jauzion is the Shane Horgan of the French team. Slightly off form in recent years, he is a cumbersome player but remains one of the world's best crashers and bashers and O'Driscoll and D'Arcy will know what to expect. Teaming Jauzion with Damien Traille, who has the same physique, will give France a mid-field of strong direct attackers, albeit slightly lacking in creative play.
Many French ambitions will rest on David Skrela at out half. Skrela is a good goal kicker, is less creative than Michalak but is a steady player. They have an amazing back three and Skrela must bring these players into the game with the same creative edge as Michalak. France's predictability was demonstrated during the Six Nations and Skrela must bring a degree of unpredacitbility.
Rugby in France
Hosts of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, France have been runners up on two occasions, losing to New Zealand in 1987 and Australia in 1999 and are the current champions of the Six Nations. The sport originated in France in Le Harve when a club was founded by British merchants in 1872, playing a cross between rugby and football called ‘combination'. The French National Rugby Centre, opened in 2002, cost €68 million. It covers 20 hectares and includes five rugby pitches (one covered, two floodlit), a gym, medical facilities, a swimming pool, media centre, and library.