France, a team that has competed at all six Rugby World Cups played since the event’s inaugural event in 1987, is still looking for its first title. However, the team has played impressively in every event, advancing to at least the quarterfinal round each time and playing in the final twice. In 1987, France fell 29-9 to New Zealand, the host country that year as well as in 2011. A 35-12 defeat versus Australia in the 1999 final took place in Wales.
The French are ranked sixth in the world in the IRB World Rankings released on July 11. It places behind the top-ranked team New Zealand, who is followed in order by Australia, South Africa, Ireland and England, respectively. France, however, does possess the best record since 2000 of any team at the Six Nations Championship, recording a 44-16 record in that time period and claiming five of the 12 titles. The team competes with England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales at that annual event.
France will compete in Pool A at the World Cup with the top-ranked hosts New Zealand in addition to No. 13 Japan, 14th-ranked Tonga and a Canadian team that is ranked 16th. The French face Japan in Auckland on Sept. 10, Canada in Napier on Sept. 18, New Zealand in Auckland on Sept. 24 and Tonga in Wellington on Oct. 1. A top-two placement advances the team to the quarterfinal round.
The game with New Zealand is sure to be one of the highlights of the group stage. Although France may be judged to be underdogs in the contest, the country has some World Cup history on its side. Just four years ago, the French prevailed in an emotional 20-18 victory over New Zealand in the quarterfinal round. In 1999, an exciting 43-31 win over the All Blacks in a semifinal moved France into one of its two final appearances.
Head coach Marc Lièvremont played for the 1999 runner-up squad and is looking to take his steady defense and loose forwards to that elusive first crown in 2011. Ensuring the team plays up to expectations in the group stage and withstands the pressure of the elimination games will be vital to those ambitions.