France V New Zealand: Re-Living 5 Famous Matches
When France host the All Blacks on Saturday, it will be the latest chapter in a story of two rugby nations whose fates have often intertwined to produce some seismic incidents in the sport.
Between them, they have served up a feast of memorable moments down the years that have run the gamut from Kiwi power and precision to the famous French flair.
So, as they prepare to lock horns once again, let's enjoy five of the best clashes between the two.
5. 2011 World Cup Final
Of the seven World Cup final matches played, only three have been settled by a score bigger than six points.
In 2011, we witnessed the closest contest yet. New Zealand on home soil had seemed able to keep the lid firmly clamped down on the pressure and expectation from a clamouring public.
Twenty-four years of hurt surely had to end on this night in Auckland, but that hope hung over this match like a tonne weight.
France knew it, too. Having gone ahead through an unconverted Tony Woodcock try, New Zealand lost Aaron Cruden to injury, the young No. 10 already having replaced injured golden boy Dan Carter earlier in the tournament.
When Cruden departed, the mighty All Blacks were forced to resort to a man who had already decided he’d seen that last of his time on the big stage and was heading for a pay day in the English Premiership.
Steven Donald was drinking beer and catching fish when he got the call from Graham Henry.
Arriving as a backup option, now he was thrust into the biggest game in his country’s rugby history. Donald landed a penalty on 45 minutes that proved to be the winning act.
Thierry Dusautoir burrowed over for a converted score after 57 minutes to make it 8-7 and that’s the way this tense, nerve shredding final stayed: France unable to break the will of New Zealand’s defensive effort, the buccaneering All Blacks denuded of their attacking thrust through injury and pure, unfettered terror.
This was no classic encounter, but it was fitting that the side the All Blacks had to overcome once again to climb the mountain were their bogeymen of so many years gone by.
They did it with a bloke jettisoned 12 months earlier, who put down his fishing rod, pulled on his boots and became a national hero with one swing of his right peg.
4. 1987 World Cup Final
The inaugural tournament was, in truth, won with relative ease by New Zealand.
But the final belongs on this list as the denouement to the first global gathering for the sport. A host of players on both sides subsequently became household names in the rugby pantheon.
Sean Fitzpatrick, the reserve hooker who got his chance and never let it go.
John Kirwan, the magician on the wing who became a superstar.
And Michael Jones, the back row forward who combined bone-jarring tackling with sublime rugby skill.
All announced themselves as players who would become fixtures on many a "greatest XV" list for decades to come.
On the French side, we had been treated to their flair in the semi-final, when Serge Blanco, that purring Rolls-Royce of a full-back, scored a try sparked from way down the field to send les Bleus to the final.
Players such as Patrice Lagisquet, Franck Mesnel, Denis Charvet and Pierre Berbizier all helped sketch the blueprint for a style the world came to love and one we sadly see too little of today.
In the end, there was an inevitability about the result of the Auckland final. New Zealand ran out 29-9 victors, Kirwan, Jones and David Kirk their try scorers.
These two sides had reached the apex of the first World Cup and helped propel their sport to the next level.
3. 1994 and the Try from the End of the World
Moments in sport that earn their very own titles by which they are forever referred to are rare.
Maradona’s Hand of God; Ali/Foreman’s Rumble in the Jungle; Olazabal’s Miracle of Medinah. Alongside them stands the Try from the End of the World.
That it came outside of a major tournament has probably diminished its rightful standing as a snapshot of rugby greatness, but it propels the second Test between New Zealand and France in 1994 on to this list for its sheer genius.
Add to that the fact it sealed a 2-0 series win for France over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil and there is no debate about its place. France had beaten New Zealand 22-8 in Christchurch a week earlier.
Now, with time almost up and New Zealand four points up, it looked as though the Blacks would salvage some pride and level the series.
The ball was wellied deep into the French 22' where Philippe Saint-Andre collected it and paused for thought before scampering through some holes in a disjointed All Black kick chase.
When he was caught, the ball was recycled quickly, and one of the finest patterns of running lines and support play ever seen unfolded as the ball was spirited up field, leaving black-shirted tacklers grasping at air like kids chasing bubbles on a windy day.
The crowning moment was left to full-back Jean-Luc Sadourny, who dotted down to make it 21-20 with the conversion to come, giving France a famous touring triumph.
2. 2007 World Cup Quarter-Final
France seemed to have shot themselves in both feet by conspiring to lose the opening game of their home World Cup to Argentina.
It meant they would have to pack their passports and head to Cardiff for a quarter-final against the tournament favourites.
New Zealand had predictably swaggered through their group and pitched up at the Millennium Stadium in no mood to stage a re-run of their 1999 bete noir.
Bizarrely, they took the field in slate grey jerseys against the French, who faced the Haka as one unbroken line, decked out in red, white and blue T-shirts to form the colours of the tricolore.
In the centre of this formation was the raven-haired, heavily bearded, wild-eyed Sebastien Chabal.
As the war-dancing All Blacks edged closer to the French, he looked like he could have swallowed at least one of them whole. As it was, he was actually on the bench and had to watch on as New Zealand started like a house on fire, moving out to a 13-3 half-time lead while France lost talisman Serge Betsen to a knee in the head from one of his own players.
France, being France, were not out of it, though. New Zealand lost a man to the bin and Thierry Dusautoir scored to bring them back to within two points.
Rodney So’oialo put the All Blacks back in front, but then came the moment that made Wayne Barnes public enemy No. 1 in New Zealand.
The English referee missed what looked like a forward pass from David Marty as France counter-attacked through Frederic Michalak.
Michalak found Yannick Jauzion who scored the try that heaped another pile of World Cup misery on the pre-tournament favourites.
1. 1999 World Cup Semi-Final
The All Blacks were heavy favourites to reach their third World Cup final when the two met at Twickenham.
When Jonah Lomu barged through a cluster of blue shirts to score a trademark try before following that up with a walk-in aided by pathetic French defence, it looked as though the bookies were spot on as the All Blacks stormed to a 14-point lead.
But in the second half, France performed the rugby equivalent of Clark Kent nipping into a phone box before stepping out transformed.
Fly half Christophe Lamaison scored a first-half try that kept them in the hunt and after Lomu’s second, he took total control. In all, the French No. 10 notched 28 points as his side made the All Blacks look like a champion boxer stiffened by an unexpected left hook from an unrated journeyman.
The blue tide swept them away in a half of rugby that beggared belief as first Christophe Dominici pounced on Fabien Galthie’s delicate chip before Richard Dourthe collected Lamaison’s dink to score a third French try.
When Philippe Bernat-Salles raced on to Olivier Magne’s cultured hoof up field, it sealed a remarkable comeback that ranks as the greatest World Cup semi-final in history.
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