France have foudn themselves under attack from the local media as they build up to their meeting with New Zealandin the Rugby World Cup final intensifies.
The team has been derided as the “worst” side ever to reach the showpiece occasion with one bookmaker even paying out early on an All Blacks victory and now the press are portraying their northern hemisphere foes as thugs that resort to dirty tactics.
The New Zealand Herald devoted the front page of its sports section to two articles, one entitled ‘A History of Gallic Brutality’ highlighting several examples of French foul play dating back to the 1960s, and the other ‘Beware the filth of the French’, a column by former All Blacks captain Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford.
In 1986, Shelford played for New Zealand in the notorious ‘Battle of Nantes’, a brutal encounter where he suffered a torn scrotum in a match France won 16-3.
Even though rugby union is now a professional sport, with extensive television coverage, Shelford suggested France, who scraped through to Sunday’s Eden Park final after a 9-8 semi-final win over Wales, might resort to desperation tactics.
“Beware French skulduggery – that’s my warning to the All Blacks for the Rugby World Cup final,” said Shelford, who played for New Zealand in their win over France in the inaugural 1987 final.
“France are on a face-saving mission in this final and desperate times bring out desperate measures,” added Shelford of a team that in 1999 and 2007 knocked New Zealand out of the World Cup.
“The fact is, they have resorted to some filth in past World Cups, including eye gouging, and there were cameras around then. They certainly did it in 1999, and there was probably a bit going on in 2007 as well.
“I’m not saying this will definitely happen, but if it does, the All Blacks will need to sort it out right away because the referee will not always be able to see what’s going on,” added Shelford.
Some might see Shelford’s comments as an attempt to put pressure on South Africa’s Craig Joubert, who will be in charge of Sunday’s match.
“As to how to sort it out, well, how do you think? That’s all I’ll say there,” added Shelford, who knocked out Wales’s Huw Richards after a flare-up in the 1987 semi-final that ended with Richards being sent off.
But France hooker William Servat said in response: “I’m not sure we are such bad boys. I’m not sure that in this (French) team there are these big ‘barbarians’ like they (the media) say.
“You get the Englishmen who get the chambermaids in their room and the All Blacks who go out the night before a game, so I’m not sure we’re the most badly behaved boys,” he added in a reference to off-field incidents at this World Cup.
Shelford’s remarks elicited a mixed response amongst those posting comments on the Herald’s website, with Mike Holt writing: “What a pathetic attempt at journalism. This team and their supporters are guests in our country. Very Embarrassing. Go the All Blacks. Shame on the Herald.”
But ‘nzfan’ of Auckland said: “Great Buck. I am so glad that you brought this subject up. It’s happened in the past and it could happen again.”