Marc Lievremont's contested reign as France coach will come to an end after the World Cup, giving him one last chance to prove he can turn the famously flamboyant but inconsistent French into champions.
Lievremont will be replaced after the World Cup by Philippe Saint-Andre, a former France wing who will quit his job as coach of big-spending club Toulon, and he fully intends to go out in style.
"It is our ambition to become world champions. I don't want to have any regrets after the tournament, saying 'we could have done this, we should have done that,'" Lievremont said. "You have to believe in it every day. The players have to take this ambition on board individually and collectively. I am convinced we can do it."
France was well beaten in the two finals it has reached, losing the inaugural decider 29-9 to co-host New Zealand in 1987 and going down 35-12 to Australia in '99. France was desperately unlucky not to reach the '95 final when it narrowly lost to host South Africa 19-15 in controversial circumstances, and was thwarted twice in the semifinals by England in 2003 and '07.
Still, France's record of reaching at least the semis in five of the six tournaments means that none of the favourites will underestimate France -least of all New Zealand's All Blacks.
"We're not going there just to take part," France hooker Dimitri Szarzewski said. "We're not among the favourites, we're outsiders. But we're among the big nations, so anything's possible."
France is expected to open its campaign with comfortable Group A wins against Japan and Canada, before playing New Zealand at Eden Park on Sept. 24, and then Tonga.
"I want us to be competitive against New Zealand, without gambling everything on this match," said Lievremont, suggesting he may take the tactical decision to rest some key players against the All Blacks to keep them fresh for the last group game. "We know that the danger match is against Tonga."
Still, playing France will rekindle bad memories for the All Blacks.
France rallied in spectacular style in the 1999 semifinals to win 43-31 and eliminate the tournament favourites at Twickenham. Four years ago, the French produced another thrilling second-half comeback to win their World Cup quarterfinal 20-18 in Cardiff.
But after that epic quarterfinal win, the French then cracked under the pressure of being favourite to beat England at home, losing a turgid semifinal at Stade de France that was ultimately decided by the boot of English flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson.
Now it's Lievremont's turn to try and find the missing ingredient that France has lacked at crunch time.
Even though Lievremont guided France to the 2010 Six Nations Grand Slam, his tactics and selections never meet with unanimous approval, and his choices are frequently questioned.
Powerful centre Mathieu Bastareaud and Sebastian Chabal - who can play at lock or No. 8 - were surprise omissions from his provisional World Cup squad. He then omitted veteran prop Sylvain Marconnet from his final squad of 30, having surprised many by bringing him back in the first place.
The 35-year-old Marconnet was left out of the 1999 World Cup squad and missed the 2007 tournament after breaking his leg in a freak skiing accident, and is now likely never to play in the tournament again.
Considering that he was overlooked in favour of Fabian Barcella, who only recently recovered from an Achilles' tendon injury that sidelined him for more than a year, Marconnet perhaps had just cause to be angry.
"Unfortunately my dream was shattered just as I was about to step onto the plane," Marconnet said. "Once again I will experience a World Cup vicariously. It's a big disappointment."
Naming Lievremont's successor before the tournament also draws a worrying parallel with France's football team, which announced before its disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa last year that coach Raymond Domenech would be replaced after the tournament by Laurent Blanc.
Domenech's already fragile authority was completely undermined when the players shamed themselves by going on strike. Although such folly is highly unlikely for the rugby team under Lievremont, it remains a talking point and an unwanted distraction for the players, particularly as Saint-Andre got the job only because Toulouse coach Guy Noves declined it.
"I feel like we've watched Marc Lievremont's public execution," said former France scrumhalf Pierre Berbizier, scorer of France's try in the '87 final. "Perhaps he was clumsy in announcing he would step down (as France coach) before the World Cup, but we didn't need this extra burden."
Lievremont has been in charge since he took over from Bernard Laporte after the 2007 World Cup.
His innovative approached was welcomed at first, as he brought younger players through the ranks and broke with Laporte's more defensive approach.
France beat New Zealand away in June, 2009, and then secured a solid win over World Cup champion South Africa three months later, further raising hope that Lievremont was the right man to finally blend trademark French flair with a tough, uncompromising pack whose front five dominated the Springboks in impressive fashion.
But his persistent tinkering with his lineup backfired spectacularly last November when he picked veteran wing Aurelien Rougerie at centre against Australia, and France fell apart in a humiliating 59-16 defeat.
Lievremont's stock dipped further after a 22-21 Six Nations loss to Italy in March, prompting him to launch a tirade against his own players, even accusing them of cowardice, as the French press screamed its indignation.
Lievremont eventually backtracked and apologized for the brutal condemnation of his own team, but the damage was done.
Amid murmurs of heated arguments and divisions forming within the French camp, captain Thierry Dusautoir stood up for Lievremont and publicly defended him in a bid to rebuild the shattered team spirit.
Dusautoir has been the rock in France's team since that spectacular night in Cardiff four years ago, when the flanker's relentless tackling inspired the win over New Zealand.
Dusautoir will lead a settled and experienced pack at North Harbour Stadium against Japan on Sept. 10, although it is still uncertain how Lievremont's backs will line up.
The highly skilled Francois Trinh-Duc is a certain starter at flyhalf, as is consistent try scorer Vincent Clerc at right wing.
But Lievremont must choose between 30-year-old Dimitri Yachvili and 22-year-old Morgan Parra at scrumhalf, a tough decision seeing as both are reliable kickers.
Lievremont must also decide whether to keep Rougerie at centre or return him to the wing instead of Alexis Palisson.
Depending on Lievremont's tactics, the versatile Damien Traille could play at fullback. With veteran centre Yannick Jauzion now out of the picture, Maxime Mermoz, tough-tackling David Marty and Patrice Estebanez contest the places at centre.
Wingers Maxime Medard and Cedric Heymans can both also fill in at fullback, and Traille can switch to centre - as can Medard - giving Lievremont plenty of options.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.