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(From Guardian Unlimited)
So, then, this New Zealand choking record. They haven't actually done much choking, have they? Let's look at the facts. They won the first staging of the Rugby World Cup in 1987. In 1991, Australia were simply the best team in the world, and the pre-tournament favourites. In 1995, New Zealand were the best team in the world, and should have won the final, but in fairness two-thirds of the team were doing the Pizza Hut Pasodoble and spent most of the time leading up to the big game in the pan. In 1999, they should have won the tournament, but were blown away by France with the line in sight during the second half of that semi-final, but hey, these things happen. In 2003, they froze against Australia in the semi, and in 2007, they froze against France in the quarters. So, er, OK, maybe they do a fair bit of choking.
Still, they're by far the best team in the 2011 World Cup. And they've got home advantage. This should be a shoo-in for the All Blacks: they've played France 50 times in Tests, winning 37 of the games and drawing one, losing only 12. They've only lost against Les Bleus four times on their own soil in 24 outings. Their biggest winning margin against the French came four years ago in Wellington - a nine-try 61-10 hammering - and of course they've won the only previous World Cup final between the two sides, that 1987 match, 29-9.
It's France, though, isn't it. They're arguing amongst themselves, and they all hate the coach. It's like the 2006 and 2010 football World Cup squads rolled into one, and multiplied by some good old-fashioned industrial action. On the flip side, of course, they've knocked New Zealand out of two of the last three World Cups, which will give the All Blacks pause. But most importantly of all, they're France . And France, so the clich' which I'm only too happy to trot out goes, are due a stellar performance every now and then. They've not had one in this World Cup, yet have made the final? Could the stars finally be aligning for Les Bleus, the only Big Nation yet to make off with the Webb Ellis Cup.
In summary: It is on!
Kick off: 9am in the British "Summer" Time.
New Zealand: Dagg, Jane, Smith, Nonu, Kahui, Cruden, Weepu, Woodcock, Mealamu, O. Franks, Whitelock, Thorn, Kaino, McCaw, Read.Replacements: Hore, B. Franks, A. Williams, Thomson, Ellis, Donald, S. Williams.
France: Medard, Clerc, Rougerie, Mermoz, Palisson, Parra, Yachvili, Poux, Servat, Mas, Pape, Nallet, Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy.Replacements: Szarzewski, Barcella, Pierre, Ouedraogo, Doussain, Trinh-Duc, Traille.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Terrible news for New Zealand! "Choking? New Zealand? What are you going on about, Scott?" splutters Kevin Mannerings. "Why even your beloved Sergio Garcia is taking an eight-shot lead into the last round of the Castello Masters in Valencia . New Zealand, and Sergio, will banish the ghosts today and bring it home." Oh Kevin! How could you! That's torn it now. If/when France make off with the pot, the Kiwi nation is never going to forgive you for this. Sergio, needless to say, I've already given up on.
So I think we can agree that Sophie Tucker with Miff Mole and his Molers, honourary French for the day, probably trump Crowded House and the bloke who did How Bizarre . Although if you factor in Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand probably edge it. All together now: All of our fashions come from gay Par-ee / And if they come above the knee / Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong ...
The teams take to the field. For the last time in this World Cup, the bloke with the wooden horn revisits Mulligan and …