The New Zealand All Blacks go into Sunday's Rugby World Cup 2011 final as hot favourites following an impressive performance which has seen them win five games in a row including a pool match victory over France earlier in the tournament. The men in black look set to break the Rugby World Cup bogey, despite having arguably less depth than in previous tournaments and losing one of their best players Daniel Carter to injury. They haven't won the William Webb Ellis since 1987, despite being the best team in the world for long periods of time.
Such is the dominance of the host nation in this tournament that if they beat France on Sunday, it will be France's third loss of the tournament and the All Blacks' sixth win in a row. Simply getting into the final has been a great achievement for France who have only shown glimpses of form during the tournament so far. It is difficult to know if this is something to fear or not, given that the All Blacks have been stung twice by France in previous tournaments. If France can put together 80 minutes of what they did in about 40 minutes against England and for the opening 15 minutes in their pool match against New Zealand, then we could have an upset on the cards.
The unpredictable nature of France makes this match difficult to pick. I would say that the bookies are offering great money of 7 to 1 for France to win the Rugby World Cup final, which is a result that I think is unlikely, but possible. I think France would win about two out of 10 matches against the All Blacks and this is backed up by the statistics, although Rugby World Cups can throw everything out the window.
The All Blacks have played France 50 times since 1906, with 37 wins to the All Blacks, 12 to France and the one draw. The teams have played five times at the Rugby World Cup, with New Zealand having a 3-2 advantage.Eden Park is a fortress for the All Blacks having not lost on their largest ground since 1994 when France scored "The try from the end of the world".
For France to win following such a scratchy tournament they will have to change their game plan. Referee Craig Joubert likes to keep the game flowing and the All Blacks back three are used to diffusing bombs and kicks for territory and will be dangerous on the counter attack. I think Australia tried the kicking option too much against the All Blacks and the hosts were too good, so I think France need to muscle up in the forwards and then let their slippery backs loose which is something they didn't do against Wales, but did well at times earlier in the tournament. This means that we could be in for a great match. Hopefully referee Craig Joubert doesn't decide that this is his chance to stamp his mark on Rugby World Cup history by making too many controversial calls. France need all the help they can get from the referee and so the All Blacks will be hoping that Craig Joubert keeps the game flowing and doesn't allow players to infringe at the breakdown. So far he has been great.
If the All Blacks can stay focussed like they did against Australia and hit the ground running from kick off there is a chance they could win this one easily. My prediction is New Zealand by 20 points.
Both teams go into the final with settled lineups from the semi finals. The only change for the All Blacks is the return of loose forward Adam Thomson in place of Victor Vito. He offers more height and more experience at open-side flanker.
France: Jean-Baptiste Poux, William Servat, Nicolas Mas, Pascal PapÃ©, Lionel Nallet, Thierry Dusautoir (c), Julien Bonnaire, Imanol Harinordoquy, Dimitri Yachvili, Morgan Parra, Alexis Palisson, Maxime Mermoz, AurÃ©lien Rougerie, Vincent Clerc, Maxime MÃ©dard.
Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Fabien Barcella, Julien Pierre, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Jean-Marc Doussain, FranÃ§ois Trinh-Duc, Damien Traille.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Adam Thomson, Andy Ellis, Stephen Donald, Sonny Bill Williams