Rugby World Cup 2011
Bonnaire: All Blacks could choke again
ESPNscrum Staff
September 22, 2011
France fanker Julien Bonnaire looks on, Canada v France, Rugby World Cup, McLean Park, Napier, New Zealand, September 18, 2011
Julien Bonnaire believes the expectations of an entire nation could derail the All Blacks © Getty Images

France back row Julien Bonnaire has begun the mind games ahead of Saturday's crucial World Cup clash with New Zealand by questioning whether the All Blacks will buckle beneath the weight of expectation.

Test rugby's greatest team have dominated the game since the inception of the World Cup yet have won the tournament just once, the inaugural event in 1987. With the 2011 competition being staged at home, the pressure is building like never before and Bonnaire is keen to inject doubt in their minds.

"The All Blacks know we are unpredictable, both in a good and a bad way actually. We can either fail or pull it off - and that is what they fear," he said. "Clearly there are high expectations from a whole nation who support them fully - perhaps too much even. We experienced that ourselves in 2007 in France."

Much of the build-up to the match has concentrated on what has been described in the New Zealand press as a second-string line-up. The claim does not stand up to scrutiny with a host of big names - among them captain Thierry Dusautoir, scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili and winger Vincent Clerc - starting.

The main area of discussion has been on the selection of Morgan Parra at fly-half in what will be his first Test start in the position. Muddying the waters on the debate over whether Marc Lievremont has selected a weakened side is the knowledge that defeat would place them in the easier half of the quarter-final draw where two of England, Ireland or Wales will lie in wait.

"Controversy is part of the deal," said Bonnaire. "The media are looking to get their hands on anything. It doesn't affect me. It's up to us to prove them wrong on the field."

France have become something of a World Cup nemesis for New Zealand after staging famous upset victories against them in 1999 and 2007. All Black lock Brad Thorn admits Les Bleus can be unpredictable.

"The French can play a really attractive game of rugby. It can be out of the box, it's quite unique," he said. "They can throw the ball wide off their own try line, so it makes for interesting footy.

"My message to spectators would be to enjoy the rugby. Cheer their hearts out. Get every cent's worth out of their admission and just express themselves and have fun. Hopefully the two teams can put on a performance that can really excite fans from not only New Zealand, but from everywhere."

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