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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Ibanez warns of French revival

By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport in Australia

Raphael Ibanez
Ibanez believes France are an outside bet to win the World Cup
French hooker Raphael Ibanez has one goal in life before he moves to London in December.

The Saracens-bound star wants to go one step further than he did four years ago when Les Bleus failed to muster the energy to deny Australia their second World Cup crown.

Ibanez captained the side that day at the Millennium Stadium, but he says that the French team has moved on from then, and are ready to deliver one or two more surprises.

"You cannot compare the side to four years ago," said 30-year-old Ibanez, who is the senior statesman of the French side.

"Back in 1999, it was the first time that we prepared ourselves professionally, and getting to the final was a consequence of that.

"Four years on, we now have the players in the squad who are experienced and know how to handle the pressure and how to prepare for this competition.

We will have to be very wary of Scotland if we want to claim number one spot in group
Raphael Ibanez

"The French players now just don't accept what we are told, we now ask questions, and are curious to find out everything about preparation.

"Generally, the players now show a lot more interest."

But Ibanez also believes that France are not the only team under pressure to perform.

"Australia, New Zealand and England are all under tremendous pressure as the top teams. However, while we are also being mentioned as one of the favourites, we see ourselves as challengers," he said.

"Everyone says that on our day we could be the best, but we like to be quiet and discreet during the competition."

Mental strength

Ibanez admitted that his first worry is tackling Scotland on Saturday night in Sydney.

"Historically, every time we play against Scotland it is a very tough game," he said.

"In the first World Cup, we drew 20-points apiece and I can recollect that every time I played against them they were very dangerous.

"Scotland are excellent at retaining possession, and they also have a lot of pace, particularly in their back line.

"But it is their mental strength that is so prominent. They just never know when to give up.

"There are times when Scotland might seem to be at a low ebb, but then come good and surprise you. So we will have to be very wary of Scotland if we want to claim number one spot in group."

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