Eight years on from one of New Zealand’s most infamous defeats, Cardiff is again the venue with the All Blacks taking on France in the second Quarter-Final of the weekend. The setup is strikingly similar, New Zealand cruising through the group stages on route to being the first ever back-to-back World Cup winner, while France has looked laboured and no more so in their previous loss against Ireland. The records are strongly in favour of New Zealand, having won the last eight encounters. It will take another Cardiff miracle for France to break their losing run this weekend.
The loss of veteran prop Tony Woodcock might hurt their scrum if they progress further, they should at least be on par with a French front-row that hasn’t been creating much havoc themselves. A recognizable All Black pack with arguably the best loose trio and lock combination in world rugby, their pace with ball in hand and work at the break-down will put the French pack under pressure. Captain Thierry Dusautoir struggled to disrupt the Irish break-down during the past weekend, and while the inclusion of Bernard Le Roux will boost their effort, France are likely to struggle to retain possession against the side with the highest turnover rate at the tournament.
While the French remain one of the better defensive sides, their attack has struggled to live up to expectations for quite some time. Morgan Parra will partner Frederic Michalak for the first time in two years, while Alexandre Dumoulin replaces Mathieu Bastareaud at centre, and will hope his pairing with Wesley Fofana proves a bigger threat to the opposition than that of the hefty compatriot he replaced. New Zealand for their part have named a settled side, with Aaron Smith having established himself as the top half-back partner for Daniel Carter, while legendary centre pairing Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith will play their normal game, and allow space for the outside backs to finish.
While the French team is laden with experience, and they haven’t endure the media scrutiny of the 2011 side, inconsistency has impaired their past four seasons. Their pack might gain an edge in the collisions and at the set pieces, but they are likely to struggle at the break-down. It is here where New Zealand will thrive, producing quick attacking ball to build constant momentum. A French victory is not impossible, but going on the past four years, incredibly unlikely. New Zealand are favourites to win, and to finally burry that result in Cardiff eight years ago.
Prediction: New Zealand by more than 10