Former All Black Zinzan Brooke has warned that France will aim to peak for their crunch World Cup pool match with Ireland next month.
The 1987 World Cup winner said that the unpredictable French will do anything to avoid a quarter-final showdown with New Zealand.
And the All Black legend fears that a pool defeat will mean an end to the honeymoon period for Joe Schmidt.
Brooke made his debut for New Zealand during the inaugural Rugby World Cup when the All Blacks won the competition on home soil in 1987.
He also went on to play in another two fruitless World Cups including the 1995 final defeat to South Africa.
But the 50-year-old former No 8 says topping their pool has to be the priority for Schmidt’s Ireland, which he believes they can achieve.
“I’m sure Ireland would like to win their pool and I think they can. But seeing what France did in the last few weeks against England they’ll be a real test. They reversed their Twickenham defeat with a comprehensive victory in Paris. Everyone will be concerned about facing New Zealand. If you draw them in the quarter-finals you’re going to have to play well to beat the Blacks.
“Everyone talks about New Zealand having a monkey on their back, but I think the only team that has a monkey on their back is France. They’ve been to three finals and never won one.
“If they are going to do it they need to do it soon, because they’ll be labelled – they’ve been a bridesmaid three times now. But they are a good side when they are at their best, but you just never know,” said Brooke, speaking in Galway where he is one of 200 cyclists covering 1,000kms across the Wild Atlantic Way to raise funds for CROSS Charity to support cancer research at Trinity College in Dublin.
And while Brooke believes that Ireland have the upper-hand on the French after their recent good record against Philippe Saint-Andre’s side, he thinks their unpredictable nature could prove Ireland’s downfall when they meet in the final group game.
“France’s problem is that I don’t think they can do back to back games. They always seem to follow a good game with a bad game. They can’t do a good game, a good game and then a great game.
“That’s the trouble that Philippe Saint-André has got. I don’t know if it’s his methods or coaching style, but it’s not consistent enough to warrant winning the competition.
“That’s why I feel comfortable about Ireland’s chances. Can they beat France? Certainly they can, but on their day France might peak because they won’t want to play the All Blacks in the quarter-final.
“That last game of the pool, Ireland versus France, is the key game, it’s absolutely vital.”
While Brooke didn’t start the 1987 final when New Zealand defeated the French, the powerful No 8 is remembered fondly for his 47-metre drop goal in the 1995 semi-final win against England.
He saved his best performances for that World Cup, and he thinks Schmidt’s biggest tests are about to come. If results go against Ireland at the World Cup, Brooke thinks his honeymoon period as Irish boss will be over.
“Schmidt is certainly in the top three coaches in the world right now. Ireland have got to be very happy with what he’s doing, but it’s judged on results.
“Joe is a quality guy, but he’ll be judged on results and how Ireland go through the pool.
“I’d love to see it, if someone turns up the pressure on Ireland and then Ireland lose a pool game, that’s going to cause a lot of pressure.
“Where will that pressure go back to? Not the players, it’ll go straight to Joe Schmidt.
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