Rugby World Cup 2011
Michalak 'surprised' by France
Durban - With 54 caps and two World Cups for France behind him, Frederic Michalak is well positioned to appraise the surprise appearance of his country in this weekend’s World Cup final against New Zealand. But famous as French rugby is for its unpredictability, even Michalak wasn’t expecting to see his team in the trophy match in Auckland on Sunday.
“I think everybody is surprised to see the French in the final,” admitted the former France flyhalf, speaking exclusively to Laureus and Sport24. “The key to the team getting this far and doing so well has been the defence and a little bit of luck. Actually, a lot of luck!”
It’s also taken some strong performances from individual players, which Michalak is quick to acknowledge. “Of the French players that have stood out for me in the tournament, I would say (loose forward) Julien Bonnaire for his presence in defence, and Dimitri Yachvilli for his kicking.”
Yachvilli will be a key figure for France, particularly if the final proves to be as close as history suggests it will; pressure on the scrumhalf, then, but also on a young player who suddenly finds himself thrust into the World Cup spotlight after the injury to Dan Carter: new flyhalf Aaron Cruden.
“I don’t know a lot about him,” conceded Michalak of his fellow number ten, who had a strong semifinal showing against Australia. “But he looks strong in his head, and he has a lot of experienced players around him who can help him.”
And the other dangerous players the French need to be wary of this weekend? “You've got a lot of talented players in the New Zealand side,” Michalak said, wary of the threat the hosts carry. “Like Corey Jane, Ma’a Nonu, Israel Dagg... Too many to mention!”
Along with an array of dangerous Kiwis, Michalak also pointed out another player who caught his eye, along with the rest of his team. “The young Welsh flyhalf, Rhys Priestland, was one player who definitely impressed me.”
It was Preistland’s Welsh side that France saw off in the semifinal, leaving Michalak’s countrymen with one last challenge, and while France certainly aren’t favourites, Michalak knows just how much a victory would mean back home. “It will have a big impact on our young generation if we can win,” he explained, “and will attract more young French kids to the game”.
A great result for France if they can pull it off – but how do they go about upsetting the All Blacks at Eden Park? “Have a big defence and wait for the New Zealand team to make mistakes,” Michalak suggested. “Play the turnover and be strong in the scrum to give the opportunity to score points.” Simple enough, then; for Frederic Michalak, it’s ‘Allez les Bleus’ come Sunday.
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