All Blacks wary of France as pressure builds
HAMILTON, 17 Sept. - First it was Tonga, then came Japan, but now the All Blacks' quest to lift the Webb Ellis Cup moves up to another level at Rugby World Cup 2011.
New Zealand's final two Pool A opponents are surprise packets Canada and France, their nemesis in the 1999 and 2007 tournaments.
Fifty-Test veteran Conrad Smith says the All Blacks can use their quarter-final defeat by the French at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in 2007 as motivation for the crucial match on 24 September in Auckland's Eden Park.
"We haven't thought about that too much yet, but I'm sure it's something that will be brought up," said the centre.
"As a team, generally we'll deal with the struggles of World Cups gone by. If we look at our World Cup history and past failures, it might give us the edge that we need to succeed in this tournament."
But the 29-year-old, who scored his team's first try in their 83-7 demolition of Japan on Friday night, says he does not carry the same mental wounds as some of his teammates.
"It's a good thing for me personally because I won't go into the game with that scarring some of the other boys have," he said.
Smith denies New Zealand will be intimidated by the French, but is well aware the All Blacks will have to bring their best game to the field to get past Les Bleus.
"Their ability to attack will put us to the test. It'll be something we haven't faced in the past few weeks," he said in the wake of the All Blacks' 41-10 win against Tonga and then the even more convincing victory against the Brave Blossoms.
"They have a willingness to attack. It's enjoyable to play against, but it will be a challenge for us."
Smith, who became the 40th All Black to play 50 Tests when taking to the field against Japan, says the Kiwis will not underestimate their next opponents.
"They played really well against Japan. Everyone was talking about (the performance of) Japan, but it was the best I'd seen France play in a few years," he said.
"They will give us a strong challenge and we are looking forward to it. It's clearly the biggest game of our pool for us and we've got a bit to do beforehand."
Smith knows his team face a step up in quality of opposition.
"It kind of started with the hype that came with our first game and it was nice to get things going (against the Brave Blossoms). However, we know there are bigger challenges ahead over the next few games," he said.
The Wellington Hurricanes stalwart says the All Blacks are keen to lift the spirits of their fans in Christchurch during their visit to the earthquake-hit city over the next few days.
"There's a few things we want to achieve there. They've shown us plenty of support and we want to reciprocate that. We want to show that we care. Hopefully we can get a lift out of it," he said.
But Smith denies the five-day visit will distract the team's focus on their match against France next Saturday.
"We've got an eight-day break, so it will be a long week. We've got ample time to prepare," he added.