We have tools to cause shock - Clerc
"Someone has to be favourites," said Vincent Clerc, the brilliant little wing from Toulouse, as he chewed the fat ahead of this weekend's World Cup final with New Zealand at Eden Park.
As there was no conceivable need for him to add the phrase "and it's not us", he saved his breath. But there was, at long last, a hint of the French fires beginning to burn as Clerc and a couple of colleagues, Morgan Parra and Imanol Harinordoquy, discussed their chances of turning the tournament upside down on Sunday.
"I don't feel as though I'm living in the skin of a loser, of someone who is not very good," Clerc said. "I really don't feel that at all. New Zealand have reasons to be confident: it is logical that people expect them to win this game.
"But maybe it's our turn to play our cards. We know we're capable of playing the match we need to play: it's never easy against the All Blacks, but we have the tools. This game is still in the future. New Zealand are not world champions yet."
Along with Cory Jane, his opposite number this weekend, Clerc has been the competition's outstanding right wing. He has scored half a dozen tries in as many contests and been heavily involved in most of the good things achieved by Les Bleus over the last seven weeks.
He was at the heart of the great controversy in the semi-final against Wales too, but it was hardly his fault that Sam Warburton overcooked a tackle and got himself sent off.
"Yes, when people say we are alone here in New Zealand, it is true. But we were alone when we beat the All Blacks in Cardiff in the last tournament and alone when we won in Dunedin in 2009."
The New Zealanders are well aware of the potential for a last-day upset, unlikely as it appears on the evidence of the rugby played in this tournament.
Their assistant coach Steve Hansen is widely expected to succeed Graham Henry in the top job, but he was in no hurry yesterday to engage with the subject.
"Right now, I'm not interested in anything that might happen after Sunday," he said. "I just want to prepare our team to play really well against France, because that's what they'll have to do. Why? Because France will turn up.
"One of the amazing things about this All Black group is its ability to discuss things when the time is right to discuss them.
"Richie McCaw won his 100th cap during this tournament; Mils Muliaina did the same; this will be Wayne Smith's last game on the coaching staff.
"We haven't talked once about any of those things, because we're focusing on some-thing diff-erent." (© Indepen-dent News Service)
New Zealand -- I Dagg; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, R Kahui; A Cruden, P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, O Franks; B Thorn, S Whitelock; J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read. Reps: A Hore, B Franks, A Williams, A Thomson, A Ellis, S Donald, SB Williams.