QUARTER-FINAL 2 – New Zealand v France: 6.00am (AEDT), Sunday, October 18 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
The storyline: New Zealand need to overcome a modern history of World Cup torment at the hands of France if they are to keep their title defence alive.
Form guide: After scratchy wins over Argentina, Namibia and Georgia, the All Blacks clicked in the second half of their final pool game against Tonga, running in five tries to record a 47-9 victory. France are yet to hit their straps, taking care of Italy, Romania and Canada comfortably but unimpressively, before suffering a 24-9 loss in their decisive clash with Ireland.
2015 RWC attack: New Zealand 3rd (174), France 8th (120)
2015 RWC defence: New Zealand 3rd (49), France 6th (63)
The selection table: Tony Woodcock, a veteran of 118 Tests, has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament. Joe Moody was called into the squad as his propping replacement, but Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina are the leading contenders to replace him in the front-row. Nehe Milner-Skudder’s blistering form should have sealed the right wing spot ahead of Waisake Naholo. Expect few changes to France’s line-up, despite their disappointing performance against Ireland.
The match-up: The battle between veteran skippers and loosies Richie McCaw and Thierry Dusautoir will be an absolute belter.
The history: In 55 previous clashes, New Zealand has won 42 and France 12, with one drawn.
The last time they met: The All Blacks notched a hard-fought 26-19 win in Paris at the end of 2013, their eighth straight against France.
The stat: Nine of the All Blacks’ last 14 wins against France were by 13+ margins.
Watch out France: Dan Carter and Ben Smith ran into some sensational form against Tonga, while Sonny Bill Williams – who will come off the bench – and Milner-Skudder have been two of the standout attacking stars of the tournament.
Watch out New Zealand: Even if you don’t believe in hoodoos, there is something about the enigmatic Les Bleus that can upset the applecart of the most well-drilled, powerful sides in world rugby – as they proved in 1999 and 2007.
The verdict: France’s trademark unpredictability appears to be the only X-factor capable of preventing a runaway All Blacks victory – their form has been average at best, and their team is inferior across the board. New Zealand’s experience, game-breaking class, star-studded bench and proven big-match performers should ensure an emphatic, demon-quelling triumph. This is the match where the All Blacks will signal their intention to launch a relentless assault on the 2015 crown. New Zealand by 16