France and New Zealand both wary of pitfalls in final Pool matches
France and the All Blacks shouldn’t have any issues confirming their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal places this week, but they are not taking anything for granted.
Hosts France have yet to secure a quarterfinal place in the Rugby World Cup but will do so if they avoid defeat to Italy in Lyon on Friday, and flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert is not fooled by the 96-17 drubbing inflicted on their Six Nations rivals by New Zealand.
Jalibert has been the first-choice No 10 in the absence of the injured Romain Ntamack and came off the bench in the narrow 29-24 victory over the Italians in the Six Nations in February, where his try won the game for Fabien Galthie’s side.
“We have to watch out for Italy,” Jalibert told reporters on Monday. “If you look at the last results (between the two sides), they were always close games. Their display against New Zealand doesn’t reflect their real level.
“Over the last years, they have caused many problems to other big nations. We know their qualities and we’ll work on it as seriously as usual.
“They’re a solid team, they are good at holding the ball, which caused us many problems in the Six Nations, especially in terms of discipline.”
France will play for the first time since captain Antoine Dupont suffered a facial fracture against Namibia. Jalibert could be partnered with clubmate Maxime Lucu as the half-back pairing, something he would welcome.
“If I’m to play with Max, it’s going to be easier because we play together all year long (at Bordeaux-Bègles),” he said. “If I had to single out one quality, it would be his leadership. And the way he handles the link between the forwards and the backs, his kicking game and his excellent defensive skills.
“He is very calm. Max is a hard worker, he’s down to Earth, so I don’t think that Antoine’s injury put him into doubt. He’s been in the squad for four years now, he’s familiar with the system. He’s ready to do the job as a scrumhalf.”
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Dupont looks set to play again in the tournament, possibly as early as the quarterfinals should France qualify, but Ntamack will not and that leaves Jalibert with a huge responsibility to take his side to a first World Cup title.
“I’ve started some games (in the recent past), so it was a natural process,” Jalibert said. “This gave me more responsibilities. This gave me more confidence and importance in the team to raise my voice.”
All Blacks wary of lapses into ill-discipline
New Zealand were understandably buoyant after a brilliant display in their 96-17 victory over Italy last week, but one 10-minute patch of play has been the subject of some concern in the camp.
The All Blacks had reached halftime 49-3 ahead but Italy came out firing after the break to score a try with the All Blacks not helping their own cause by conceding a rash of penalties.
Normal service resumed soon afterwards as the three-time world champions ran in 14 tries to put one foot into the quarterfinals ahead of their final Pool A match against Uruguay.
“It’s just great to see an All Black machine go out and do its business,” scrum coach Greg Feek told reporters on Monday.
“(But) you would have noticed, just after halftime, we got a bit sloppy. We thought our discipline was really good in that first half and then just for a little part there, we kind of slipped off.
“We probably weren’t up to our standards so that’s been a bit of a focus for us.”
New Zealand have good reason to be a little nervous about discipline after a rash of penalties and yellow cards in their three games preceding the Italy clash, including in their 71-3 pummelling of Namibia in their second pool game.
“We strive to find ways to get better and so four penalties in 10 minutes probably isn’t good enough from us. We want to limit errors,” Feek added.
“If you’re going to keep building your performances, and that’s what it’s about, we are more focused on performance than on the 14 tries or the big win.”
With so many players hitting top form against Italy and a fully fit squad, Feek said team selectors Ian Foster, Joe Schmidt and Jason Ryan would have a job choosing a side to face Uruguay in Lyon on Thursday.
“I was looking at training footage the other day… and the players are training really well, the ones that didn’t play on the weekend,” he added.
“So Foz, Joe and Jase will have a few Panadols to try to put a team together.” Reuters/DM