There is a lot of history and emotion rushing into this match. There is the history of French World Cup success against New Zealand, which produces emotion. And for the All Blacks there is the extra emotion for Richie McCaw's 100th Test.
It's going to be an emotion-charged night - and a lot of the New Zealand emotion will be anger.
When the pools and fixtures for the 2011 World Cup were made know and New Zealand and France were both in Pool A, this was the match that excited most attention - New Zealand against France, the match that caused such upset in 1999 and again in 2007. In fact France's victory in 2007 howls of protest in New Zealand that could be heard all around the rugby world.
Again in 2011 the favourites would play their nemesis. It was a match to fire the imagination, whet the appetite, focus the interest, the pool match to look forward to. Some of these great expectations were spoilt when France announced a strange team and stood accused of throwing the match. If they really have decided not to put their best foot forward in this match, they are guilty of a sin against rugby - in fact against sport. This has angered New Zealanders.
New Zealand have honoured the match and their opponents by selecting their very best available team. France, logic tells you, have not. They have a scrumhalf playing his very first Test at flyhalf and his very first Test in the position will be against Dan Carter, long regarded as the best in the world. They have also plonked Imanol Harinordoquy with his many talents on the bench. They seem to have their No.3 lock playing and their No.2 front row. It does not seem the best side that France can pick and they are playing the best team in the world's best team.
One thing is certain New Zealand will not play with anything except their most determined best. The French team of the day, it is fondly to be desired, will give of their level best. And they certainly could win.
They have a pack strong enough to get the better of the All Blacks who may well be beatable at loosehead, lock and No.8. In each of their matches against Tonga and Japan, New Zealand props conceded three penalties. Against Japan Tony Woodcock conceded all three.
Behind the forwards, it would seem that New Zealand have the trumps. They would seem to have greater speed, skill and vision. French flair may have become a myth. For example where New Zealand have an actively involved fullback with speed and flair, France have a big man - Marc Lièvremont believes in size - who plays a quiet and largely anonymous role.
So if the French forwards do manage a slight edge, it will not be enough for the winning of the match.
But beware simplistic views. Before the 1999 semifinal at Twickenham Stephen Jones's preview in the Times was a paean of praise of the All Blacks, but it ended with a single sentence on France: "Of course, France may win - and pigs may fly." The pigs flew at Twickenham that afternoon as France came from 24-10 down to win 43-31.
Players to Watch:
For New Zealand: Richie McCaw of New Zealand with the good wishes of all the rugby world for this great warrior-athlete. He makes rugby proud.
Then on the New Zealand side there are the brilliant attackers - Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Richard Kahui and Daniel Carter, who will all catch the eye and could often catch the French unawares.
For France: The side one will want to see how Morgan Parra gets on. Can the multitalented scrumhalf become a multitalented flyhalf, at least on equal terms with the great Dan Carter?
The French wings - Vincent Clerc (if he is fit) and Maxime Médard - are men who could match the New Zealand wings for pace and creativity, if they are given a chance.
Head to Head: Ma'a Nonu against Maxime Mermoz. If Nonu is in the form he showed against Japan, Mermoz could have an uncomfortable afternoon. But the real contest may well be in the forwards - Thierry Dusautoir against strong Jerome Kaino and a battle of tough Lionel Nallet against tough Brad Thorn. Julien Bonnaire against Richie McCaw. It would have been an unequal contest a while back but the post-injury McCaw has been willing but less effective. And then there is the contest between the two front rows.
2009: New Zealand won 39-12 at Marseille
2009: New Zealand won 14-10 at Westpac Trust, Wellington
2009: France won 27-22 at Carisbrook, Dunedin
2007: France won 20-18 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2007: New Zealand won 61-10 at Westpac Trust, Wellington
2007: New Zealand won 42-11 at Eden Park, Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 23-11 at Stade de France, Paris
2006: New Zealand won 47-3 at Lyon
2004: New Zealand won 45-6 at Stade de France, Paris
2003: New Zealand won 40-13 at Stadium Australia, Sydney
2003: New Zealand won 31-23 at Jade Stadium, Christchurch
2002: Draw 20-20 2:2 2-2 Stade de France, Paris
2001: New Zealand won 37-12 at Westpac Trust, Wellington
2000: France won 42-33 at Marseille
2000: New Zealand won 39-26 at Stade de France, Paris
1999: France won 43-31 at Twickenham, London
Prediction: It's easy to expect a New Zealand victory but there is the nagging memory of a French surprise. After all even Caesar found the Gauls to be tough opponents and did not always win against them. Still our prediction is a New Zealand victory by more than 15 points.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Anthony Boric, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
France: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 William Servat, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Imanol Harinordoquy, 20 François Trinh-Duc, 21 Fabrice Estebanez, 22 Cédric Heymans.
Date: Saturday, 24 September 2011
Kick-off: 20.30 (08.30 GMT)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Expected weather conditions: Partly cloudy with a 20% chance of rain later and a high of 17°C, dropping to 12°C. The northwesterly will be light but freshening. It should be great weather for rugby.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
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