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France, England and Japan arrive for the Rugby World Cup

posted 31 Aug 2011, 04:16 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 Aug 2011, 04:22 ]
Squads from France, England and Japan arrive in Auckland for the Rugby World Cup.

 AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (AUGUST 31, 2011) TVNZ -  The Rugby World Cup teams from France, England were welcomed by cheering fans and a haka as they arrived at Auckland airport on Wednesday (August 31).

France, who are in Pool A along with hosts New Zealand, Japan, Canada and Tonga are heavily favoured to progress to the knockout stages at the Rugby World Cup.

Les Bleus will be led by impressive loose forward Thierry Dussautoir, who plays in his second World Cup. Their 30-man squad includes veterans such as prop Nicolas Mas and scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili.

The French have been finalists in 1987 and 1999 and despite dramatic wins over New Zealand in the semi finals in 1999 and the quarter finals in 2007, have generally under-achieved in the tournament.

Since Marc Lievremont took over as coach in 2008, they have been plagued by strange selection decisions.

But with home and away wins over Ireland in the build up, they will be a threat.

Assistant coach Gonzalo Quesada said that his side are optimistic but at the moment are only thinking about first match which will be against Japan on September 10.

"We spent two months travelling around France and trying to get some spirit into the group first of all, then to do some fitness and then to put our rugby together. We only played two games, luckily we won them against Ireland but we also know that there are still lots of things to do, lots of jobs to do, of work to do, so I think we are quite well, we are quite enthusiastic and optimistic but by the moment we are only thinking on Japan," said Quesada.

Japan, hosts of the 2019 World Cup, have won just one game at World Cups and have appeared at every tournament since 1987. They are desperate to improve as they prepare to welcome the rugby world in eight years time and have showed recent signs they are developing under the leadership of their New Zealand coach, 1987 World Cup winner John Kirwan.

The squad includes a host of foreign-born players, and have pace and skill to call on. They bring form to New Zealand after winning the Pacific Nations Cup competition in July with good wins over Fiji and Tonga.

Coach Kirwan has targeted the matches against Canada and Tonga as the "Cherry Blossoms" as they have become known, try to add to their one previous World Cup win but acknowledges their match against the All Blacks on September 16 will be a special day for the team.

"Yeah, we got France next week so we need to start properly. Obviously playing the All Blacks is a great honour for the boys, they are really looking forward to that but our big games are Tonga and Canada so on the whole scale of things the All Blacks is going to be a great day and a great moment for all the guys because it is the pinnacle but as far as the tournament is concerned we've got other bigger games really,"said Kirwan.

England, the 2003 World Cup winners, chase a third successive appearance in the World Cup final this year but face stiff opposition in pool B in the form of the powerful and physical Argentina, the ever improving Scotland and dangerous minnows Romania and Georgia.

England are the current Six Nations champions but were well beaten by Ireland in the final match of the championship back in March and suffered a defeat by Wales in a World Cup warm-up match in Cardiff.

It is this inconsistency that has dogged team manager Martin Johnson in the past couple of years but he will be hoping England's ability to win big time knockout matches will serve them well in New Zealand.

England's first match will be against Argentina on September 10 in Dunedin.

Speaking to the crowd at the airport, Johnson said he was looking forward to recovering from the trip in Auckland before travelling to Dunedin.

"It seems like a long time coming when you wait for World Cups, you're talking about them for years and years beforehand. We're finally here, we're looking forward to spending a few days in Auckland to recover and get over the trip and then get down to Dunedin next week and play in that first game as you mentioned as it's a big one for us against Argentina, " said Johnson.