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France must get in All Blacks minds

2015-10-13 20:33
France applaud their supporters (AP)

London - Getting inside the minds of the All Blacks, just like four years ago, will be the key for France in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal on Saturday.

That's the message veteran prop Nicolas Mas is giving his teammates in the build up to their showdown in Cardiff.

"If we can make them doubt," the 35-year-old Mas says, "we can do something."

The French famously upset New Zealand in the 2007 World Cup quarterfinals in Cardiff, coming back from a halftime deficit for a surprising win.

Mas was involved in 2011 when France very nearly pulled off another massive upset, this time on New Zealand soil.

He is one a handful of survivors from France's World Cup campaign four years ago, one fraught with in-fighting and a fall out between players and coach Marc Lievremont, but which almost finished in the most improbable of ways: World Cup victory.

Having reached the final against all odds, France was supposed to lose convincingly to the clear title favorite, but had New Zealand on the back foot from the outset after linking arms to form a spear shape and marching on the All Blacks' pre-match Haka.

It was an unexpected, inspired and gutsy move — particularly since it was on New Zealand's turf at Eden Park — and it seemed to rattle the supremely confident All Blacks.

By the end, New Zealand was hanging on grimly to win 8-7 at Eden Park in Auckland.

"We must focus on ourselves and not on what's being said outside," Mas said.

Captain Thierry Dusautoir, lock Pascal Pape, and scrumhalf Morgan Parra are returning from the 2011 squad, with Parra and Mas likely to be on the bench on Saturday.

If Mas comes on the field at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff for his 85th test cap, one of his favored opponents will be missing: fellow prop Tony Woodcock, New Zealand's try-scorer in that tense final.

One of only six All Blacks players with 100 or more caps, the 34-year-old Woodcock injured his right hamstring during 47-9 win over Tonga last Friday and was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.

"It's good for us that he's not (playing), but it's a pity he ended his career like this," Mas said.

France ended its Pool D campaign with a 24-9 defeat to Ireland, which is why coach Philippe Saint-Andre's lineup is facing the All Blacks rather than Argentina.

The analysis of that Ireland defeat did not last long, because it blatantly obvious what went wrong.

"No need for a video debrief — we were very bad on the rucks and if we don't improve there then we'll lose," scrumhalf Sebastien Tillous-Borde said. "The game against the All Blacks is now, there's no time to cry."

The 30-year-old Tillous-Borde, who learned from playing alongside England great Jonny Wilkinson at French club Toulon, has yet to make his mark for France in 19 tests.

He is fully aware of the challenge he's facing.

"They're the best team in the world, but they are beatable," he said.

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