New Zealand v France, Rugby World Cup, October 23, 2011
Clerc: It is our turn to play our cards
October 21, 2011
Vincent Clerc is looking forward to pitting his wits against the All Blacks © Getty Images
Vincent Clerc has warned New Zealand that France enjoy being branded as the underdogs, insisting it "brings out the best" in them when Les Bleus are faced with difficult moments.
Winger Clerc and company are rank outsiders to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy. They have already lost to the All Blacks - and then Tonga - in the pool phase, while a 9-8 semi-final victory over 14-man Wales did little to suggest they will remotely threaten New Zealand.
France, though, have won two of five previous World Cup clashes against the All Blacks, knocking them out in 1999 and 2007. And while Toulouse star Clerc accepts New Zealand are clear favourites to end a 24-year wait for world title glory, he has warned France's doubters to beware.
"We understand all too well why the All Blacks are favoured," he said. "They are playing at home, and they will have a stadium jam-packed with New Zealanders. But we have not played the match yet. They are not world champions yet.
"I do not feel I am in the skin of a future loser, someone who can't win. That is not how I feel at all. We are in the final and it does not matter what happened before. It is what happens now that counts. They [New Zealand] have their reasons for being confident. They have put in some great performances, and now maybe it is our turn to play our cards.
"We are capable of playing the match we need to play, and we are capable of beating the All Blacks."
Despite a campaign underpinned by poor form and repeated reports of rifts between players and coach Marc Lievremont, Clerc insists there is no danger of France taking their collective eye off the ball.
"We do not need motivation and we do not have to look at what others are doing," he added. "We are in our own bubble, so it does not matter what the New Zealanders are doing in terms of their preparation."
France have beaten the All Blacks four times in New Zealand, including a 2-0 Test series triumph in 1994, and those past successes will clearly be drawn upon for motivation.
"I think we are drawn to difficulty," Clerc said. "I think it allows us to bring out the best in ourselves and it allows us to believe in the impossible. When you always see them [New Zealand] as winners, it is a logical thing when you lose against them. It is up to us to bring out the best in ourselves. We have not always played perfect rugby, but we have beat them in the past. We will try to write French history. It is not easy, but we have the tools, and you can never predict what will happen.
"We know we can destabilise the All Blacks and we can do some exceptional things. I experienced that in 2007 [World Cup quarter-final], and we experienced it in Dunedin a few years ago, so it is a great source of inspiration for us. Little by little we are realising what we have achieved, and we have a huge opportunity. As the event draws nearer, the excitement is increasing.
"This is the World Cup final, and we are not here by coincidence. You can put some of it down to chance, but I don't think it is coincidence. We will have to be committed and we will have to fight. We can't fall into the trap of just doing any old thing. It will be a huge, huge rugby match, and we will have to put the heat on them."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.