AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Marc Lievremont's selection for the semifinal against Wales looks exactly like the French lineup which rebounded from its worst ever World Cup defeat to beat England in the quarterfinals.
Even Lievremont concedes, though, that he can't be sure which team will show up at game time on Saturday.
The French are famous for following a brilliant win with a terrible loss at the Rugby World Cup. Evidence of the flawed genius is compelling: wins over Australia in the 1987 semifinals and the All Blacks in the 1999 semifinals and quarterfinals in 2007 were followed by losses.
"The danger is for the players to start thinking they're too good," Lievremont said as he announced an unchanged semifinal squad Tuesday. "Once again, they're the same players who played against Tonga and England.
"But we are Latin, there's always that risk ... I hope the prospect of playing in the final is enough."
The French completed an unimpressive pool stage with an upset loss to Tonga, rated as its worst ever performance at the tournament. The squad was in disarray amid reports of immense friction between Lievremont and his players. Yet they united and played with tremendous pride in the quarterfinals, taking a 16-0 lead before settling for a 19-12 win over England to open the knockout stage.
France has beaten Wales in three of the last four head-to-heads, and some of the players said the only danger to them winning again was in taking the Welsh too lightly.
"If we start looking at it from that angle, it's a recipe for disaster," Lievremont said.
In terms of the physical side, his only concern was over scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili, who was replaced early in the second half of the 19-12 quarterfinal win over England last Saturday night.
Yachvili "will be rested until at least Thursday, but he will play," Lievremont said. "I would not have hesitated to change the team if I thought another one was better."
After last weekend's win sent the English team home, Lievremont said he immediately started preparing his squad for Wales.
"I warned the players about not getting carried away," he said. "In '99 we spent too much time thinking about our semifinal win against New Zealand and we came up short against an Australian team that was programmed to win."
Wales defense coach Shaun Edwards wasn't buying into the myths surrounding the unpredictable French.
"I heard their coach said that, that they have to overcome the obstacle of having only one big performance in them," Edwards said. "I heard their coach say that a few times but if you look at France over the Six Nations of the last five or six years, they're the team that's won it the most, so that shows they can consistently perform for four or five games.
"They do have the ability to be consistent."
As of Tuesday, there were about 7,000 tickets available for Saturday's quarterfinal at the 60,000 seat Eden Park.
That meant organizers were 99 percent of the way to their projected ticket sales.
Rugby New Zealand 2011 said it had recouped 265.6 million New Zealand dollars ($207.7 million) from the sale of 1.35 million tickets.
"We now need to make sales of just NZ$2.9 million to meet our financial target and we fully expect to do so with big crowds expected for the final four matches," RNZ 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden said.
While the allocation for Sunday's New Zealand vs. Australia semifinal has been exhausted, organizers said several hundred additional tickets may be released later this week.
The All Blacks are under immense pressure to break a World Cup drought that has stretched for 24 years since New Zealand hosted and won the inaugural tournament in 1987. Graham Henry's team has gone back to the veterans of '87 for a few pointers.
"The '87 team has grown to be legendary and is held in very high esteem by this group," All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said. "So to get them in, to have a lunch with them, to have a casual chat, to talk to them about how they felt in the quarters, how they felt in the semis. I think there were some good words there that the players will take a bit out of."
Smith said one of the messages the All Blacks had already embraced was that World Cups were often won by acts of individual character or by inner strength, something exhibited by the veterans of '87.
"Any time you get to this stage in any tournament ... it's about will, the strength of your will," he said. "Tournaments throw up all sort of things like injuries and selection issues and you can't control any of that and it's the same for the other team. It's not who you've got in the team, it's what you've got inside you that counts and that's what will win it."
And although the All Blacks are unbeaten at Eden Park in the last 25 years against the Wallabies, they're wary of the threat posed by their archrivals. With good reason, too. The Wallabies won the last head-to-head in August and have won both times the teams have met in World Cup semifinals.
"I don't think you can make assumptions about (Australia)," Smith said. "We've got huge respect for them and I'm sure they've got huge respect for us.
"We know them well, they know us well, we know it's going to be a massive encounter."
As for the Australians, scrumhalf Will Genia says going winless since 1986 at Eden Park is a meaningless stat for this team.
"One hundred percent confident. I don't know if I could be more confident," he said of ending the Eden Park streak. "I don't want to sound arrogant, I'm not that sort of bloke. I really believe in the guys that we have in this group that we can do it.
"We back each other all the way and we showed on the weekend that we cannot only win through skill but also team spirit, wanting to do it for each other. For that fact alone I have every confidence going into this game."
- Marc Lievremont