Matt Encarnacion, NRL.com
New Zealand v France
Parc Des Sports, Avignon
Friday 8pm (UK time)
Saturday 6am (AEDT); 5am (AEST)
Thirteen years after New Zealand embarrassed them in the quarter-finals of the 2000 World Cup, France have the perfect opportunity to exact some revenge against them on Friday night (local time).
Not only will the winner remain as the only unbeaten team in the group, but they will also be the first to sew up a quarter final berth against the winner of Group C (Scotland, Tonga or Italy).
And France will be hell-bent on making sure it’s them at the top of Group B heading into the final group game next weekend, especially in front of their home fans.
The match, to be staged in Avignon, France, is the first of two games the French are hosting in the World Cup. The Tricolours’ final group game against Samoa on November 11 will be played in Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan, the home of Super League side Catalan Dragons, who form 16 members of the French side.
So pressure is well and truly on the home side to build on their thrilling 9-8 win over Papua New Guinea in their tournament-opener, where Catalan star William Barthau cooly slotted a 35-metre field goal late in the game.
The defending champions, on the other hand, will be out to atone for a poor second-half showing against Samoa in their first game. The Kiwis led 36-4 before letting the Samoans back into the game.
They'll also be without Sonny Bill Williams after the Roosters star was left out of their team to face France, in order to give more game time to Alex Glenn and Frank Pritchard.
Watch out France: The Kiwis might be playing on foreign soil, but they do have experience in beating the French on their home turf. The last time New Zealand played France was during the Four Nations in 2009, when they racked up a 62-12 in Toulouse. Seven current squad members played in that game, including centre Bryson Goodwin who hauled in 22 individual points.
Watch out New Zealand: Veteran prop Jamal Fakir had run more than 100m just twice in his 27 games for the Dragons in the Super League this year, so his 136-metre effort against a tough Papua New Guinean pack was a herculean effort. The 31-year-old also made 31 tackles in a just a 41-minute stint, and a similar performance will be required against the vaunted Kiwi forwards.
His front row partner Remi Casty should be one to watch out for. The Roosters signing made just 86 metres and 37 tackles against PNG, but will be primed for a big performance against future team-mates Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, and Frank-Paul Nuuausala.
Key Match-Up: They mightn’t be directly opposite each other but chances are there will at least be one highlight between French fullback Morgan Escare and Kiwi winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The two air-walkers possess an uncanny ability to score tries.
Escare has a wonderful combination with his Catalan team-mates in five-eighth Thomas Bosc and halfback Will Barthau, while Tuivasa-Sheck’s sublime footwork makes him a threat in any part of the field.
Televised: 7mate – Live Saturday 5:30am (NSW); 4:30am (Qld)
The Way We See It: Forget what you don’t know about France. What you do know is that they’re currently fourth in the world (according to the RLIF standings), are coming off a confidence-boosting win against the Kumuls, and are in front of their home fans. Given the Kiwis’ penchant for inconsistent performances, let’s pick the upset. The Tricolours by 4.