France wing Maxime Medard sees his team’s Rugby World Cup opener against Japan as “a danger match”, that is as potentially perilous as when Les Bleus kicked off their campaign with a loss to Argentina in 2007.
France is heavily favored to beat Japan at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday, but Medard warns French fans not to expect a rout against John Kirwan’s fast-improving team.
France cracked under pressure in front of its home fans four years ago, losing 17-12 to the Pumas in the opening match of the tournament.
Although Japan is clearly not as strong as Argentina, Kirwan’s team has plenty of attacking ability, and Medard insists the French will have to concentrate on being vigilant before entertaining any notions of a try-feast.
“It’s a danger match, you have to respect them,” said Medard.
“They have a good running game, they’ve scored some good tries and have two really good centers. We’re very wary of this team.”
Medard will start in the back three alongside his Toulouse team-mates Vincent Clerc and Cedric Heymans - describing them as “free spirits” he hopes will cause the Japan defense all sorts of problems.
Clerc’s pace, combined with Heymans’ directness and Medard’s explosive style may prove too much for Japan.
The 24-year-old Medard is impatient to get going after a two-month preparation period, and is relying on his more experienced teammates to stop him getting too carried away by his enthusiasm early on.
“I’m impatient to start, I want to be champion,” said Medard, whose long bushy sideburns and thick, wavy brown hair give him a resemblance to a younger version of the comic book character Wolverine in the X-Men series.
Although Medard is one of the most extravagantly gifted players France has produced for some time, his place in the World Cup squad seemed far from certain last year.
Medard was out of the team for a year after November 2009 until coach Marc Lièvremont recalled him for a test match against Fiji.
In the 12 months before November 2009, Lièvremont had picked Medard for 14 consecutive matches either as a winger or a full-back. During that spell he stood out in France’s 27-22 win against the All Blacks in Dunedin, scoring the winning try.
But then his form inexplicably dipped, and he drifted away from the international scene as quickly as he came onto it.
“You have to show what you can do,” Medard said.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a (guaranteed) first-team player.”
Medard seized his second chance, scoring a try on his return against Fiji, and getting tries in the next two matches against Scotland and Ireland in the Six Nations.
He will be aiming to add to his eight international tries on Saturday.