New Zealand and France set for RWC re-match
December 1, 2008
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw poses for the cameras after today's Rugby World Cup Pool Draw © Getty Images
The All Blacks have the opportunity to start the 2011 Rugby World Cup the way they finished the last edition of the sport's global spectacle - although in three years time a loss to France at Eden Park will not necessarily prove fatal.
New Zealand drew their Cup nemesis when the tournament's four pools were allocated today after New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs drew both powerhouses in Pool A. Hobbs smiled, though not ruefully, as the All Blacks were placed up against the team responsible for sensationally halting New Zealand's title bid at the quarterfinal stage at Cardiff in October last year.
Of course, the Tricolores also thwarted New Zealand at Twickenham in the 1999 semifinal though once the pool match is completed, they cannot meet France again until the final -- in what would be a rematch of the inaugural tournament's conclusion in 1987, New Zealand's only success. The draw and venue allocation will not be finalised until mid-March but it seems likely the All Blacks and France will open the tournament on September 7 in Auckland.
A match-up rich in historical significance seems the logical starting point although tournament organiser Rugby New Zealand 2011's (RNZ2011) recommendations have to be rubber-stamped by the International Rugby Board's (IRB) competition overseer Rugby World Cup Ltd.
"In many ways it adds a potential edge," Hobbs said. "I can see real advantages in starting the tournament in that fashion -- given the strong historical relationship we have with French rugby."
Tonga, and yet to be determined qualifiers from the Americas and Asia also comprise New Zealand's pool though obviously the French connection was a major talking point once the Hobbs and IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset allocated 20 nations to four groups.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw attended the function inside Tourism New Zealand's giant inflatable rugby ball at Tower Bridge, and afterwards the pair were asked only about the French once their fate was known.
"I guess my first thought was `that's what the talk will be about -- what happened last time'," said McCaw, the captain when New Zealand were upset 20-18 at the Millennium Stadium. Because of that there'll be a bit more intrigue about the match."
Henry, who was celebrating the All Blacks' Grand Slam barely than 24 hours ago, was soon reminded of the darkest day of his coaching career and responded wryly.
"It's nice to get them in a pool game where not everything depends on winning," he smiled. "It seems strange really just finishing a European tour and the day after you're talking about a tournament that's three years away."
The spectre of France had already cast a shadow over this season's achievements as Henry playfully suggested: "Great, give it profile (as 2011's opening game). We want a bit of tension for a change -- a bit of stress, just to relieve the happiness we've all got.
"This is great for New Zealand to put ourselves on the map. We did that with the Lions in 2005, and this is going to be even greater. It's marvellous for the country and marvellous for positivity, which is particularly what we need in New Zealand."
France coach March Lievremont was happy to be lumped with New Zealand though he already seemed to be conceding defeat.
"We reckon we will finish behind New Zealand. After that it is up to us to get out of our group. We are also conscious of the rest of the pool. Tonga are an unpredictable team and will be playing more or less at home."
New Zealand, defending champions South Africa, Australia and Argentina were seeded first in their groups on the basis of current world rankings. While the All Blacks and France presented an obvious grudge match the same scenario unfolds in pool B where the Pumas, and old rivals England and Scotland are seeking to progress to the knockout stage.
Presuming the All Blacks get out of their group they will play one of that trio in the quarter-finals. Australia have been grouped with Ireland and Italy while the Springboks have to contend with Wales, Fiji and almost certainly Samoa -- who are expected to claim the vacant Oceania spot.
The eight as yet unknown nations will not be finalised until 2010 but today's announcement has already pleased Martin Snedden, the chief executive of RNZ2011. Snedden had hoped for a couple of marquee match-ups and had his wish granted with the All Blacks assignation and the Anglo-Scots rivalry being staged in a pool stage for the first time in the tournament's history.
"This is an outstanding draw for our role as organisers with so many exciting match-ups across each of the pools," said Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden.
"Rugby fans around the world will now be analysing their team's pool and, we hope, will want to be there to see the contests unfold. It is an exciting day for rugby fans, as it makes Rugby World Cup 2011 that much more tangible.
"They now know who their team is up against, and what they need to do to advance to the knockout stages. It's also an important day for our ongoing preparations for the tournament.
"We've had 18 regions from across New Zealand express interest in hosting matches or teams, and the draw allows us to move the match and team allocation process forward. Over the next few months, we will be working closely with Rugby World Cup Limited to take the 40 pool matches that the draw has thrown up and allocate them to venues around New Zealand."
Decisions on match venues, as well as the match schedule, are expected to be announced in March or April next year. Team bases will be revealed in late 2009.
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