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October 6th, 2007
All Blacks self-imploded yet again as France claimed a
thrilling 20-18 victory in Cardiff.
All week, the Tricolores spoke of the famous World Cup
semi-final eight years ago at Twickenham, which they won
despite being heavy underdogs. On that occasion, France
fought their way back from a 14-point deficit. On Saturday
night, New Zealand blew a 13-0 lead to exit a World Cup at
the quarter-final stage for the first time. Whether this
defeat will cost coach Graham Henry his job remains to be
seen, but the impact on New Zealand’s already fragile psyche
will be devastating.
France’s insistence on wearing their new dark blue jerseys
infuriated the All Blacks, who were forced to don their
alternative silver strip. Those bad vibes were evident
during an emotional haka when the French players walked
forward to within inches of the All Blacks in scenes
reminiscent of the 1995 World Cup final.
France looked good early on, but lost Serge Betsen when his
head collided with Joe Rokocoko’s knee in the tackle. The
flanker appeared to swallow his tounge and suffer
convulsions, before leaving the field dazed. That saw the
introduction of Imañol Harinordoquy off the bench, which at
least gave the French another line-out option.
However, New Zealand soon took control and opened their
account with a Dan Carter penalty.
Then came two moments of magic from Luke McAlister. The
inside centre burst through the French defence, taking play
inside the 22. The ball was recycled and sent wide to Ali
Williams, who put a foot into touch just before grounding
the ball over the tryline. A minute later, McAlister did it
again and this time offloaded to Jerry Collins. The flanker
passed back to McAlister whose momentum carried him over the
The French played a conservative game at first, refusing to
run the ball inside their half. Lionel Beauxis had been
selected at flyhalf ahead of Frédéric Michalak because of
his accurate boot, but his first penalty attempt missed the
mark. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde then botched a penalty when he
was given a go.
France also struggled in the line-outs – an area of the game
they expected to dominate – losing three of their own
throws, but a Beauxis penalty gave them some hope at
The Tricolores should have scored straight after the break
when Cédric Heymans hacked the loose ball down the left-hand
touchline. However, instead of putting boot to ball again,
and backing himself to win the race to the in-goal area, he
stopped to pick it up and the momentum was lost. Fortunately
for France they retained possession, McAlister was yellow
carded for a professional foul on the tryline and Beauxis
kicked the penalty.
Bernard Lapote pulled off his two veterans – Raphaël Ibañez
and Fabien Pelous – and brought on Dimitri Szarzewski and
Sébastien Chabal. Soon after, Thierry Dusautoir drew the
teams level when a sustained French attack created space for
the flanker out wide.
Graham Henry reacted by replacing Byron Kelleher and Carter
with Brendan Leonard and Nick Evans. His team reacted by
scoring a second try through Rodney So’oialo, although
McAlister missed the crucial conversion.
France responded superbly when Michalak – on for Beauxis –
broke free from a blatant forward pass and gave Yannick
Jauzion the try-scoring pass.
The All Blacks had all the ball in a nerve-racking final
five minutes, but the French defence rose to the challenge.
McAlister bizarrely had a drop-goal attempt from 45m out
when the New Zealanders could easily have set one up just
outside the 22 a few moments earlier. That tactical brain
explosion probably summed it up for an All Blacks side that
simply crumbled under the pressure.
New Zealand –Tries: Luke McAlister, Rodney So’oialo.
Conversion: Dan Carter. Penalties: Carter (2).
France –Tries: Thierry Dusautoir, Yannick Jauzion.
Conversions: Lionel Beauxis (2). Penalty: Lionel Beauxis.
By Simon Borchardt | Keo.co.za