AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Having finally broken the spell of losing to England in Rugby World Cups, France now has the chance to shed its reputation for inconsistency by beating Wales in the semifinals.
A France team previously so lacking in confidence pulled yet another World Cup performance out of nowhere to beat England 19-12 in Saturday's quarterfinal, having lost the previous two semifinals to its fiercest rival.
France has done the unexpected before in World Cups, rallying to beat New Zealand in the 1999 semifinal and 2007 quarterfinal.
But, both times, France failed to follow up those inspired wins, soundly beaten by Australia in the '99 final and surrendering a 9-8 lead with just minutes remaining against England four years ago at Stade France.
"It's a French ill that, after a game like that, to do nothing in the next match, to fall into the old ways," flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc said. "In a way we've broken the spell against the English in World Cups, now we have to keep our run going. It's only a quarterfinal."
France also upset the odds in the inaugural World Cup in 1987 by beating Australia in a thrilling semifinal then losing heavily to New Zealand in the final.
The bitterness of losing to Tonga last weekend, one of France's worst performances ever at the World Cup, led to straight talking between the French players in a traditional bonding session.
France seems to be getting a taste for it, with celebrations starting in the dressing room after beating England. It was a turnaround from last week, when the players were at loggerheads with coach Marc Lievremont after an upset loss to Tonga.
"There were some beers, we had a few together," said Trinh-Duc, who landed a late dropped goal to stem England's comeback momentum as it was gathering steam. "The last week was very hard for us, no one (conceived of) us beating England, so we have to realize where we've come from without getting too carried away.
"We really want to make the most of it tonight," he added. "But we will have to start thinking of Wales as soon as we get up."
When the hangover of their unexpected victory wears off, the French players must plot a way past Wales, which convincingly beat Ireland 22-10 in Saturday's other quarterfinal.
"We've often seen French teams surpass themselves in the past, and then mess up afterward," Lievremont said. "We need to know if this team wants to write its own history."
Wales was very unlucky to lose its opening pool match to defending champion South Africa and has been playing with an increasing sense of conviction ever since.
France captain Thierry Dusautoir has alerted the players to the challenge ahead.
"We spoke about the Wales match right after the final whistle," he said. "There are a lot of us in the squad who experienced what happened in 2007."
The soft-spoken Dusautoir has been reproached for his lack of aggressive, vocal leadership, but he must have found the right words to reinvigorate his players so quickly after the Tonga debacle.
"We wanted to show a new side to ourselves. Thierry said to us that he was glad we'd talked openly with each other, but he didn't want it to be for nothing," Trinh-Duc said. "It might be the last World Cup for some of us, so we have to live it like it's our last game."