AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND // Imanol Harinordoquy has described Wales as "the All Blacks of the north" and fears his French squad will be punished in tomorrow's semi-final if they plays the same way they did in the second half of the quarter-final win over England.
The back-row forward was instrumental in France's 19-12 win last weekend, when England rallied from a 16-0 deficit with two second-half tries to get back into the match.
Having been involved in consecutive semi-finals losses in 2003 and 2007, the 31-year-old Harinordoquy knows this is probably his last chance to reach a Rugby World Cup final. Confident Wales stand in his way, and Harinordoquy sees few weaknesses in Warren Gatland's team.
"They're the All Blacks of the north, a very good team full of confidence," Harinordoquy said. "I haven't seen any team put them in trouble or unsettle them so far. When they play going forward, they're a very strong, mobile team with a lot of speed, and strong players in the centre.
"What we did last Saturday won't be enough to beat Wales, we have to keep the same spirit but be better in defence and make less mistakes. We have to play the second half as well as we played in the first."
Wales have gained in confidence since an opening loss to South Africa, a match many critics feel the Welsh deserved to win. Gatland has successfully blended young talent such as George North, the 19-year-old winger, and Toby Faletau, the 20-year-old No 8, with World Cup veterans such as Shane Williams, the 34-year-old winger.
"They are very mentally strong, young players who are able to play the way they want," Harinordoquy said. "They're very patient in defence and take their time to play their rugby. They play freely."
France have the psychological edge, having won the last three meetings. When they met in 2009, Wales were the defending Six Nations champions, poised to equal the tournament record of nine successive wins, but blew a 13-3 lead and lost 21-16. In 2010, Wales conceded two intercepted tries, trailed 20-0 and eventually lost 26-20 in France's Grand Slam run.
This year, Wales had an outside chance of winning the Six Nations but Lionel Nallet, the French lock, charged down James Hook for his second try of the match. Hook also went to the sin bin, and France won 28-9 to save themselves from their worst tournament in a decade.The hard-earned lessons for Wales were to cut down errors, kick with purpose, stay focused and get fitter.
The result is their first World Cup semi-final in 24 years.
"I think what's definitely been part of our problem against France in the past is that we've harmed ourselves," Shaun Edwards, the Wales defence coach, said.
"So, first and foremost, we have to make sure that if France do get points against us, they have to earn them. If France are good enough to get points, well maybe so, but defensively we're determined to keep that to an absolute minimum."
* Associated Press