Rugby World Cup 2015

Ready to slay Ghost of '07

Hansen & Co., who meet France in q-finals in Cardiff again, say they've learnt their lessons

LONDON • If there is one French expression the All Blacks do not want to hear this weekend it's "deja vu", as they prepare for another Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France at the Millennium Stadium.

The All Blacks are still haunted by the nightmare of their ill-fated 2007 campaign, when they started as hot favourites only to be beaten by France in the quarter-finals at Wales' flagship arena.

The luck of this year's draw has the All Blacks, as winners of Pool C, matched against the runners-up from Pool D. But it is a scenario they have been planning for as coach Steve Hansen insisted the reasons for the unhappy 2007 campaign needed to be addressed.

"We can't fear that," he said. "There is going to be a lot of anxiety from the public about that. It will be what it will be.

"We rocked up a little arrogant possibly (in 2007). We were too comfortable."

Richie McCaw and Dan Carter played in that match for New Zealand. Thierry Dusautoir played for France while Frederic Michalak and Dimitri Szarzewski were on the bench.

Keven Mealamu, now in his fourth World Cup but not required for the 2007 quarter-final, said it was valuable for the newer players to understand what happened then and what happened four years later when the All Blacks beat France 8-7 in the final.

"All we need to do though is make sure we have learnt the lessons from those World Cups and improve on them here."

Lessons from eight years ago are the underlying reason for the All Blacks' varied strategies in their pool matches against Argentina, Namibia, Georgia and Tonga.

Hansen believed it was more important the All Blacks rehearsed for scenarios they are likely to face in the sudden-death phase of the tournament rather than win by cricket scores.

Flanker Victor Vito said there had been a noticeable change of mood in the All Blacks' camp once they completed their unbeaten pool run.

"You can sense a clear focus now," he said. "The quarter-final is there, there is no hiding from that, but it's about moving towards it and making sure we are in the right head space, which I've no doubt we are."

One thing the All Blacks are happy about is finishing pool play last Friday, giving them two more recovery days than France, who left the field battered after being forced to make 181 tackles against Ireland.

France captain Dusautoir said his side must "recharge" quickly for the quarter-final.

"The essential thing now is to overcome the disappointment and rest," he said. "We need to recharge mentally and physically. Everything remains possible, we'll stay focused on ourselves."

Added lock Yoann Maestri: "We are up now against the beast, the best country in the world. We have our backs to the wall and we will have to see how we pick ourselves up. For my generation, this will be the biggest match of our lives."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'READY TO SLAY GHOST OF '07'. Subscribe