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Harinordoquy urges improved performance vs. Wales

Updated: October 13, 2011, 00:10


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Imanol Harinordoquy has described Wales as "the All Blacks of the North'' and fears his French squad will be punished in Saturday's Rugby World Cup semifinal if it plays the same way it did in the second half of the quarterfinal win over England.d

The veteran backrower 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 semifinals losses in 2003 and '07, the 31-year-old Harinordoquy knows this is probably his last chance to reach a World Cup final.

A confident Wales stands 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 center.''

"What we did last Saturday won't be enough to beat Wales, we have to keep the same spirit we had but be better in defense and make less mistakes,'' he added. "We have to play the second half as well as played in the first.''

The victory over England was all about pride and passion for the French, making amends for a poor pool stage which culminated in a humiliating defeat to Tonga.

Led by No. 8 Harinordoquy and flanker Julien Bonnaire, France played with such intensity early in the quarterfinal that England was never able to get a foothold in that match and conceded several early penalties.

The French think dominating Wales will be a far harder prospect.

"They're able to defend for long periods,'' Harinordoquy said. "They're never breached, they can even play going backwards.''

Wales has 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 19-year-old winger George North and 20-year-old No. 8 Toby Faletau, with World Cup veterans like 34-year-old winger Shane Williams and prop Adam Jones.

"They are very mentally strong, young players who are able to play the way they want,'' Harinordoquy said. "They're very patient in defense and take their time to play their rugby. They play freely.''

France coach Marc Lievremont warned his players about easing up after they had beaten England. Harinordoquy is fueled by the desire to make amends for the last two World Cups and is unlikely to lose his focus.

"You never know what can happen in the build up to a semifinal,'' he said, recounting the two semifinal defeats he experienced against England.

"We felt we were very strong in 2003, the morning of the match we opened the curtains and saw it was chucking down with rain and that unsettled everyone. But that day we did lose to the better team,'' he said. "In 2007, I think we relaxed a bit too much during the week. We thought we'd won the match before we played it and, in my opinion, lost to a weaker team than us.''

He said overconfidence "is always dangerous when you're the favorite'' and he'd prefer to be the underdog.

Harinordoquy may not need any extra motivation, but in case he does, he need only look at the bookmakers odds.

"We saw the odds this morning ... they are largely against us,'' he said. "We'll all go and place a bet this afternoon, even though we're not allowed ... that will motivate us,'' he added, jokingly. "But we shouldn't focus on what happened last week. We have to look forward.''

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