Maybe Steve Hansen got tired of France’s routine bold comments or reasonably public ambition of ambushing New Zealand in another Rugby World Cup.
Whatever hit a nerve with the All Blacks coach, he was in a jovial but combative mood at his team announcement yesterday, two days before their quarter-final against France.
Hansen referred to the Rainbow Warrior, and had a dig at the standard of France’s domestic championship. “There’s been a great relationship between the two countries for a long, long time,” he said, then added: “Apart from the Rainbow Warrior, we’ve probably been on the same page most of the time.”
In 1985, French secret service agents sank the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior at its moorings in Auckland harbor, killing one of the crew, and straining relations between the countries. But they kept on playing rugby, meeting in three Tests the following year.
The Rainbow Warrior incident added to New Zealanders’ sense of triumph when the All Blacks beat France in the first Rugby World Cup final in 1987 in Auckland. The episode was raised again before the teams met again in the 2011 final, again in Auckland, where the All Blacks won.
Of course, the Tricolors have also been responsible for twice ending All Blacks campaigns, among the biggest upsets in tournament history.
“Their game was built around flair in the backs and real physicality up front,” Hansen said. “I’m not sure it’s the same flair that they’ve got now what with the [Top 14] – that’s become quite a dour competition with a lot of physicality. I know that they’re trying to recapture that flair.”
He said he wasn’t underestimating France.
“There’s always been some days when you just wonder who’s turned up, but most of the time they turn up. And when it’s a big occasion, they always turn up,” he said.
The All Blacks haven’t been at their best in this World Cup, but have still won all four of their pool games, and are on track to peak in the knockout phase, according to Hansen.
“I can understand there is a bit of concern back home, because they are at home and not here. They don’t know everything we’ve been doing,” he said. “I’m extremely happy with where we are at. We know what’s on the game. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. But that’s the sort of thing that excites this team.”
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw returns after injury for the quarter-final, but the Kiwis have dropped dropped winger Waisake Nah.
McCaw missed New Zealand’s last pool game, against Tonga in Newcastle on Friday, because of a sore hip. He brought on kicking tees and water for team-mates in that game, but was always lined up to play against France. Brodie Retallick also returns at lock.
France, meanwhile, have recalled stand-off Morgan Parra and dropped centre Mathieu Bastareaud.
Alexandre Dumoulin comes in for Bastareaud, while Bernard Le Roux replaces Damien Chouly at No 8.