The Benchwarmer's Comment by Jamie Wall, rugby writer and washed-up player - @jamiewall2
OPINION: A typically French build up
Yesterday morning, word broke that the French team, as they did in the last Rugby World Cup, their football team did in the 2010 World Cup, and their army did in World War I, had mutinied.
Known as 'le Piglet', coach Phillippe Saint-Andre's antics in the changing room during pool play clearly had the complete opposite effect of what he was after.
All the pre-match talk of French unpredictability has ignored the fact that over the last few seasons, Les Bleus have actually been quite predictable: as in, they often lose and haven't played very well at all.
Since Saint-Andre took over, the only Six Nations silverware they've picked up is the hardly prestigious Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy between them and Italy and the entirely un-prestigious Wooden Spoon.
Maybe it was the dropping of centre Mathieu 'Fat' Bastareaud to the bench that literally tipped the scales against Saint-Andre. His replacement is Alexandre Dumoulin, who has exactly 84 less test caps than his opposite, Conrad Smith. Saint-Andre also swapped his halfbacks. Morgan Parra, one of the many goalkicking number 9's to have worn the French jersey in recent years, gets the nod.
However, it'd be foolish to completely dismiss a team that contains the man who has often been in the same conversation as Richie McCaw regarding the openside flanker position. Thierry Dusautoir, the shining beacon of consistent excellence in French rugby, is a safe bet to have assumed command of the team after the uprising. It's almost worked before - last time they internally sacked Marc Lievremont and he took over, the French made the final.
Meanwhile, anyone out there old enough to miss the days of international rugby tours? Because this World Cup is about as close to one as the All Blacks have been on for a while.
They left our shores with high hopes pinned upon them, had a tough first up game, followed by a series of games that were harder than they thought (against guys for whom taking the field against them will be a career highlight), and now they face the first real test.
The key difference here being that if they lose, there's no series afterward to try and rectify it.
The All Black loose forwards need to step up. Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read have been pretty lacklustre given their illustrious reputations so far and will need to make more effort to get themselves involved. Joe Moody has been rushed onto the bench to replace Tony Woodcock, the same one that TJ Perenara has quietly slipped off and had his seat filled by Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Look for the All Blacks to smack the French in the mouth up front as they look to dominate possession and strangle their opposites out of the game. So a reasonably simple game plan: as long as Les Bleus can't get the ball in the All Black half, they won't be able to pull out any tricks.
It will probably result in a few more kicks than we've seen from them in the tournament so far, so Aaron Smith had better be on the money from the base of the ruck. Likewise, Dan Carter's sometimes shaky goal kicking better come right because the All Blacks will want to turn any five-pointers into sevens.
Man To Watch: If Dusautoir is going to decide to have an effect on this game, it'll be up to Richie McCaw to stop him. As well as taking care of that threat, the All Black breakdown presence is critical, so he will need to be at his rule-pushing best to gain some crucial turnovers.
Prediction: The heat is on now, but this All Black team has been here before. While Woodcock is a big loss, four years ago they had just lost Dan Carter and still managed to do a demo job on Argentina in their quarter final. The game plan will be less flashy, but as long as they can keep the French from getting a sniff they will have the firepower and discipline to finish them off.
Predicted score: All Blacks 25, France 10
How they line up:
All Blacks: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Alexandre Dumoulin, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Brice Dulin, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous. Bench: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Damien Chouly, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Sunday 18th October (NZT)
Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.
The Benchwarmer's Comment will run throughout the World Cup on radionz.co.nz