France 27 – New Zealand 22
O.K. Lets put all the crap to bed first. The excuse the Nuw Zulenders will use for their 22 – 27 defeat to Les Bleus will be that they were without McCaw, Carter, So’olialo, Ali Williams, Conrad Smith, Sivivatu, Wulf, Kahui, etc etc yawn!
However, let’s not forget that our continental friends, colloquially known as Le Coq Gaulois, were not without their own difficulties. Think Rougerie, Parra, Nallet, Harinodoquay, Bonnaire (all withdrew from the tour injured) and Mermoz, Guirado, Mas and Domingo who were late arrivals due to cup final commitments and not considered for this match (although the latter two eventually ended up on the bench). That about evens it up in my book.
Oh, and lets also remember that although the team the All Blacks fronted up with tonight was without some of those first choice players, with some local journo dubbing it as ‘one of the weakest in the last decade’, there was only one player in the starting side that hasn’t had at least some All Black experience. So, it WAS an All Black team and, the fact of the matter is, they lost to a better side.
This was not how it was supposed to go. An end of season tour by Les Bleus is usually a doddle for the All Blacks and the Wallabies. But make no mistake, times have changed. And haven’t they changed for the better. This was a real rugby test in every sense of the word. Le Froggies turned up to play with a forward pack that physically dominated the All Blacks in the first half to lead 17-6 just before halftime, when a terrific movement which originated in the All Black 22m resulted in a Liam Messam try courtesy of Cory Jane ,who did the bulk of the work.
In the second half, a few penalties were traded between the sides and then Maxime Medard intercepted a wayward Luke McAlister pass to score. Ma’a Nonu scored a late try but it wasn’t enough to overtake the exuberant French. They had led for the whole game and withstood severe pressure at the end to record their first win in New Zealand since 1994. And weren’t they a happy group of escargot at the finish?
So, what does all this mean for the Wallabies? Well, I guess we play these Frog dudes in a couple of weeks and I think they’re going to cause us a bit of a problem. Their set piece was pretty effective (lineouts and scrums – very solid). It might have just been me but I just got the feeling there were fewer of both during this match than there would normally be (changed rules notwithstanding)? Could’ve been the vin rouge, perhaps. Their defensive game was outstanding, muscling up and providing the ABs with little room to move. Trinh-Duc and Medard kicked intelligently, with the latter being able to peel off a fair bit of ground.
Attack – well, they are Le Francais and when they’re on song they can be a real handful. But it was at the breakdown that they excelled, effecting some turnover ball and having a commanding physical presence. The change back to international rules (without the ELV sanctions) obviously suit their playing style. Being European of course, they weren’t half bad at the maul as well.
Who do we need to look out for? The Ma’a Nonu clone ‘Mathew Bastard’ looks a likely lad, especially in defence – did a Stirlo on a few unsuspecting players (I think that’s his name….no, I’m not getting confused with Johnny Condom). Their loosies, in particular Piccamoles and Ouedraogo, were very effective both at the breakdown and as a link between forwards and backs. You can never turn your back on a French three-quarter either…. I guess some of those Perpignan and Clermont Avergne players who were in the club final may also re-appear.
No doubt there’ll be a slitting of wrists across the ditch for some and calls for Graham Henry’s head, which happens every time something out of the ordinary happens to their All Blacks…..like losing. If I were them I’d be a bit concerned about their defence, especially around the five eighth channel – classic example was Trinh-Duc’s try where about four of them, I think including all their loosies and fullback, fell off the tackle. I was surprised that they didn’t include Jamie McIntosh in the side – he’s got a bit of mongrel in him – just what you need against these guys.
Of the All Black team on the park Woodcock, Mealamu (replacement), Thorn, Muliaina, Jane, Donald and Nonu had reasonable games and will probably feature in the next round. They’ll no doubt make replacements as their injured players come online but I think a couple of them may have played their last test? They’re very unforgiving when it comes to rugby failure in the Land of the Long White Ewe……
Highlight of the match: apart from the Froggies actually winning, wasn’t it great to hear the Kiwi commentators, Nisbett and Smith in particular, whingeing towards the end when things weren’t going their way…it’s that bluddy ref’s fault AGAIN! The only disappointment was that Murray Mexted wasn’t there to share the joy…….
FRANCE 27 (Francois Trinh-Duc, Williams Servat, Maxime Medard tries; Julien Dupuy 3 cons 2 pens) defeated NEW ZEALAND 22 (Liam Messam, Ma’a Nonu tries; Stephen Donald 4 pens).