Steve Hansen (AFP)
Swansea - French rugby could probably do better outside the Top 14 competition which is stifling their traditional flair, according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
The term "French flair" has been repeatedly used around the All Blacks this week as they prepare for their World Cup quarter-final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
It goes back to the days when French coach Philippe Saint-Andre was at his playing best and famously sparked what has become known as "the try from the end of the world" against the All Blacks in 1994.
The flair was evident when France tipped the All Blacks out of the 1999 World Cup semi-finals and the 2007 quarter-finals, both times throwing caution to the wind when behind on the scoreboard to fight their way back and claim the win.
However, playing with spontaneity has not been the French way at this World Cup.
Hansen said the famous flair still exists but is being drowned by the style of play in the Top 14 club competition, the world's wealthiest rugby league.
"Their game was built around flair in the backs and real physicality up front," Hansen said.
"I'm not sure it's the same flair that they've got now what with Top 14 that's become quite a dour competiton with a lot of physicality.
"I know that they're trying to recapture that flair. You can see it and when they let it loose it's definitely there."
Hansen said the dropping of Mathieu Bastareaud and the pairing of Alexandre Dumoulin with Wesley Fofana in the French backline for Saturday suggested they were planning to test the All Blacks with an expansive game.
"They've made three changes. They're obviously picking on form and what's most damaging against us," he said, describing Fofana as "one of the flairy guys" who will command a lot of attention.
"He's pretty good. You wouldn't want to give him too much room. He'll skin you as quick as look at you.
"But they've all got it. They've got the ability to catch and run and pass the ball and turn nothing into something.
They're very instinctive rugby players and when they've got their backs to the wall that's when they really let it loose."
The winner on Saturday will move on to play the winner of Saturday's South Africa-Wales match in the semi-finals.