LONDON • The All Blacks are backing a band of ageing warriors led by Richie McCaw in their showdown with France today to bury a nightmare in a rematch of their 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
New Zealand v France is so much more than just the second knockout match of this year's tournament.
It has all the ingredients of a colossal showdown at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium between two sides with a bitter history.
New Zealand are again the overwhelming favourites.
However, it is well documented how a fragmented French side can be galvanised when they face the All Blacks in a do-or-die situation.
When you are under the pump, you need people in that group that can cope with it. Conrad Smith - great rugby brain. Richie McCaw - great rugby brain.
STEVE HANSEN, All Blacks coach
They showed that spirit in the 1999 semi-finals and the 2007 quarter-finals.
France, mad at losing the 2011 World Cup final 7-8 to New Zealand, are again lapping up their status of being widely regarded as the underdogs.
But All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, who was assistant coach when the world champions capitulated eight years ago, said history has motivated his side.
"We know what's on the game, as everyone else does. That's the sort of thing that excites this team," he said. "Everyone's really excited, the atmosphere's growing, it's the time of the tournament when the big boys have got to stand up or we're going home.
"Our guys love a challenge and we know there's not many bigger challenges than playing France."
Hansen's answer is to bank on experience, selecting a side stacked with 1,295 caps, six players over 30 and an average age of 28.
McCaw, the world's most experienced Test player, is back from injury to lead the side in his 146th international. Dan Carter, the world's leading points scorer, plays in his 110th Test. Ma'a Nonu, who won out over Sonny Bill Williams to mark Wesley Fofana, will be starting his 101st Test.
Said Hansen: "When you are under the pump, you need people in that group that can cope with it. Conrad Smith - great rugby brain. Richie McCaw - great rugby brain. They have been in places that some of the other guys haven't been."
France have spoken of "rage" after folding against Ireland in their last pool game and have targeted the Kiwis to show their true worth.
While the All Blacks have to erase their 2007 nightmare, France are still bitter over the 2011 final, claiming an avalanche of inexplicable penalties in the final 30 minutes aided the All Blacks.
French coach Philippe Saint-Andre has recalled experienced scrum-half Morgan Parra and replaced blockbusting centre Mathieu Bastareaud with the more elusive Alexandre Dumoulin in an indication he wants to take the game to the All Blacks.
"If we want to beat New Zealand, we have to play the French way," said Saint-Andre, whose own playing years were when the famous "French flair" was at its peak.
But to do that, they need possession and Saint-Andre, even with a talented loose trio of Louis Picamoles, Bernard le Roux and Thierry Dusautoir, conceded that has not been their strong point.
"We will need to improve in the rucks and take a lot more individual initiative," he said.
NEW ZEALAND V FRANCE
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