Mas: ABs no angels up front
Auckland - France expect no quarter to be given or asked when they go toe-to-toe with the New Zealand pack in the battle for forwards supremacy in Sunday's Rugby World Cup final, prop Nicolas Mas said on Friday.
New Zealand's best-selling newspaper, the Herald, led its rugby coverage on Friday with the splash "A history of Gallic brutality" above an article by former All Blacks captain Wayne Shelford headlined: "Beware the filth of the French".
Shelford, who suffered a torn scrotum in a 1986 match against the French dubbed the "Battle of Nantes", warned his compatriots that the French would be out to save face in the final and might resort to "desperate measures."
The French have, however, shed their reputation for ill-discipline and foul play over the last decade and Mas said he expected both sides to be equally aggressive as they sought to win rugby's biggest prize.
"All rugby matches are aggressive and the All Blacks are aggressive," the tighthead prop told reporters on Friday. "We saw that in the match against Australia. They are not angels, either. But that is the way the game is played. It is normal that games are aggressive.
"Two teams want to win and they will do everything in their power to win, and that's aggression and passion. You can't mix the two up. It is a complex sport and there will be a huge amount of passion involved."
Mas missed the 37-17 pool defeat to the All Blacks because of injury and his return to the front row could have an impact on the balance of power at the scrum.
"Theirs is a strong scrum and I think they are very much ahead of the pack in that sense," the 31-year-old said.
"They put a lot of time and effort in that. They are used to coming in strong and coming in fast.
"The difficulty in playing against them is meeting their speed. They do not give you much time to move them. They free the ball up very quickly so they have a strong scrum."
"It is a very reactive scrum," he added. "They have great impact at the scrum and you have to meet them. We need to be able to meet them in the scrum if we are going to be able to play. We have to do this the whole match."
Hooker William Servat also starts on Sunday after helping the French pack win parity in the set scrum when he came on as a replacement in the pool match.
The 33-year-old said he expected the French to produce a fiery performance as they look to win a World Cup final for the first time in three attempts.
"We are going to be passionate and we each know what we will have to do," he said. "I get text messages every day from friends and family and you realise when you hear from friends how important this match really is."