Magne joins French pessimists as All Blacks remain wary
May 30, 2007
Olivier Magne unfurled the white flag while Reuben Thorne worried about walking into another French rugby ambush as predictable pre-test mind games stirred into life today.
The conflicting views of the only players from the 1999 rugby World Cup semifinal to run on to Eden Park here on Saturday night provided a rare point of difference ahead of a game the All Blacks are expected to win comfortably against a third-rate touring party.
Magne, a rangy openside flanker bidding for a World Cup swansong on home soil this year, admitted as much after coach Bernard Laporte named 10 new caps in his 22-man squad.
Realistically, the 34-year-old and fellow 30-something prop Christian Califano are the only fringe members of Laporte's original 70-man training group likely to feature in France from September.
The England-based Magne also that admitted two games against the Cup favourites might not exactly enhance their claims.
A thorn in New Zealand's side at Twickenham during that famous boilover eight years ago, Magne three times made referred to the All Blacks as "the best in the world".
Then he before dismissed his youthful side's chances of causing an upset in Auckland similar to France's stunning victories at Eden Park on Bastille Day in 1979 and in the second test of the 1994 series.
"There is no chance," he said.
"It is one of the most difficult tasks and if we have a chance to win it, maybe it would be better than `99."
Nothing the All Blacks say this week will temper the forecasts for a significant victory although blindside flanker Thorne attempted to sound a note of caution.
"I've played them quite a bit in my time (six tests) and I'm certainly not underestimating them," the former New Zealand captain said.
"It only takes a small thing to go their way and suddenly they're away."
Twickenham, where the All Blacks folded from 24-10 up to lose 31-43, is Thorne's point of reference as the 45-test veteran revisited his vivid experience of French flair.
"We were going along pretty well, then they got a lucky bounce, scored and suddenly their tails were up," he said.
"It happens from time to time, they pull a blinder out of nowhere.
"It might be the bounce of the ball, a little bit of luck and suddenly they're on top of you. They've got the athletic ability and flair to make something out of nothing when they're in the mood."
Magne's clearest recollection of that bizarre second-half resurgence was watching the All Blacks' heads dip as the French resistance gathered momentum.
"It was a big sign for us, we had a chance to beat them. It was the first time I had seen the All Blacks look like that."
Magne is not anticipating the All Blacks to sport similar expressions on Saturday, and hopes France's next generation also hold their heads up if the margin blows out.
Califano and Magne have already spoken to their new players about the need to enjoy the experience.
"The speech from a player like me is to just take pleasure from it and enjoy every minute," said Magen, who earned the last of his 88 caps against Wales in the 2006 Six Nations.
"It's quite a dream for those players to be here and play against the best team in the world. One day they may also be the best."
Halfback Nicolas Durand, wing Benjamin Thiery and centre Arnaud Mignardi are the newcomers in the starting backline while Gregory Le Corvec will debut on the blindside flank and lock Julien Pierre earns his first cap in at lock alongside captain Pascal Pape.
Hooker Raphael Ibanez and outside back Ludovic Valbon are the only members of the bench with test experience.
Laporte confirmed Ibanez, his skipper during this year's triumphant Six Nations campaign, would also be in the reserves in Wellington next week as he concentrates on studying the All Blacks ahead of a potential World Cup quarterfinal clash in October.
"He will be a leader, he will still be in the dressing room but he will not play (unless necessary)," Laporte said.
The front rower's relaxed tour is also due to a long season with English club Wasps, which culminated in a Heineken Cup success this month.
France: Thomas Castaignede, Julien Laharrague, Arnaud Mignardi, Jean Phillipe Grandclaude, Benjamin Thiery, Benjamin Boyet, Nicolas Durand, Sebastien Chabal, Olivier Magne, Gregory Le Corvec, Julien Pierre, Pascal Pape (captain), Nicolas Mas, Sebastien Bruno, Christian Califano.
Reserves: Raphael Ibanez, Franck Montanella, Olivier Olibeau, Damien Chouly, Michael Forest, Nicolas Laharrague, Ludovic Valbon.