In the land of the “long white cloud”, they would see themselves darkening the sky. Opposed to the Black Ferns (black ferns) in the semi-finals of the World Cup, the French women’s rugby team knows that it has neither the favor of bettors nor that of spectators against the female alter egos of the All Blacks . For this Saturday, November 5 (7:30 a.m., Paris time), the mythical Eden Park in Auckland is expected to be crowded, and the recent attendance record for a women’s rugby match (34,235 spectators during the match of opening) may fall.
But like their captain, Gaëlle Hermet, the Bleues aspire to spoil the party. “Inevitably, we will be alone against allsummarizes the third line in The Team. On the field, it will be only us, and maybe 5% or 10% of the public who will encourage us. »
To face New Zealand on their home soil, in a stadium in fusion, the French women dreamed of it. “We hoped to find, at some point, this match, because it is both a huge challenge and just by talking about it we feel that we want to be there”, explained the tricolor coach, Thomas Darracq, at a press conference. It will be for a place in the final. “I hope it will galvanize us, continues the coach. The pressure is especially on the New Zealanders, who will also discover an Eden Park with 40,000 people. » If, since this year, the players of the Black Ferns have professional contracts with their federation – unlike the French, always amateurs –, no rugbywoman has ever played in front of such an audience.
For Gaëlle Hermet’s teammates, the stakes are clear. The Blues have never crossed the threshold of the semi-finals in the World Cup. And it has long seemed impassable. In eight editions before this World Cup in the antipodes, the French have completed six – including the last, in 2017 – the bronze medal around the neck. “We have the opportunity to write the history of the XV of France, I think we are aware of this issue”, insisted the opening half, Caroline Drouin, questioned Friday on France Inter. In 2017, the Breton and her partners had failed against the English in the last four.
“Lethal” attack against “blue wall”
On Saturday, a New Zealand mountain stands in their way. Holders of the trophy, and five-time world champions (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2017), the Black Ferns have already done better than their male counterparts, three times titled in nine editions, and their simple name inspires just as much respect and fear to their opponents.
If in 2021 the Blues had found the key to the New Zealand equation, with two victories in Pau (38-13) then Castres (29-7), the Black Ferns team has been largely renewed since. Starting with the technical staff. In April, Wayne Smith took over a squad marked by a disastrous tour of the northern hemisphere at the end of November, with four heavy defeats against England and France.
At the time, the New Zealanders were coming out of two years without an international match, due to the strict confinement imposed in the country. A nuance that takes on all its importance today. The Welsh can testify to this: crushed in the group stage (56-12), they could only see in the quarter-finals (55-3) the steamroller that once again became the host of the World Cup. “They are lethal when they have the ball”insisted the Welsh captain, Siwan Lillicrap.
“Lethal” and extremely effective. With 209 points scored (including 35 tries) in four games, the teammates of the scoring machine, Portia Woodman – already seven tries for the winger in the competition, now the best try scorer in the World Cup, men and women combined –, unfold their game. But facing the best attack of the competition will stand a “blue wall”dreads Woodman, predicting a “very hard battle”.
With only two tries conceded since the start of the tournament, the French intend to stop the black machine. “We will have to be very strong in front”hammered Thomas Darracq, who expects “a challenge of eighty minutes, like what we experienced against England” – during the group stages. After a fierce fight, her players had narrowly yielded to their best enemies (7-13).
“A team that does not fear” the Black Ferns
With this fight of styles, between all-out attack and intractable defense, it is difficult to predict the outcome. “Like what exists among men, France can have this little more irrationality against New Zealand”, added this week, the English coach, Simon Middleton, at a press conference. At the head of the Red Roses, the other favorites of the tournament, opposed to Canada in the other semi-final, the British technician warns the hosts of the competition: “They have displayed spectacular rugby, and are without a doubt the most in-form team in the competition. But facing France will be a new test for them, as they will face a very tough team in defence. And a team that doesn’t fear them. »
Les Bleues will have to show it, from the Ko Uhia MaiWhere hakawhich will precede kick-off. “Boys as well as girls, for a very long time, we always saw them as the ‘New Zealand ogre’: we didn’t play them a lot, there was the hakathe whole culture behind, their strength and power, relates Thomas Darracq. Today, all that has been greatly reduced, because we meet them more often, and because we have beaten them lately. » For his troops, the accession to a first world final can only pass by a clearing in order of the “ferns” New Zealanders.
New Zealand – France, Saturday November 5, 7:30 a.m. (French time), live on TF1.