France send ABs packing

07th Oct 2007, 13:13


Allez! Thierry Dusautoir goes over for France's first try

Allez! Thierry Dusautoir goes over for France's first try

France will play England in an all-northern semi-final in Paris next Saturday, after stunning favourites New Zealand 20-18 in Cardiff.

France will play England in an all-northern semi-final in Paris next Saturday, after dumping the favourites New Zealand out of the tournament 20-18 in Cardiff on Saturday.

Fantastic! Sheer fantasy! Amazing Saturday went spirally upwards into fantasy! There has never been a day like it in World Cup rugby.

Whether France deserved to win or not, doesn't matter one iota. The fact is that they did win. If the brave deserve the fair, they deserved this victory. The French made 178 tackles to New Zealand's 36. That was bravery as they stood shoulder to shoulder and repelled the Pacific wave that threatened to overwhelm them. They kept a tsunami at bay.

They tackled and tackled and then New Zealand lost the ball, and Elissalde went scampering off like a little boy who has pinched one of his mother's cookies and then kicked the cookie into the crowd for an outburst of ecstasy.

It was, as Dickens once wrote, the best of times and it was the worst of times. It was a time of ecstasy for France. It was a time of utter, shuddering despair for New Zealand.

History had repeated itself. The favourites were not going to make the final. New Zealand who seemed to be winning well at half-time were beaten 17-5 in the dramatic second half as if 1999 had returned to life.

Fantastic Saturday will go down in rugby history.

It is tough for New Zealand. For France it is a wonderful boost and reward for a country which has done so much to make this World Cup a joyous success.

The match had started with a dramatic haka, with France on the half-way line and the All Blacks doing their 'ka mate' haka within touching distance, which produced a cheeky grin and wink from David Marty to Keith Robinson and dismissive amusement on the face of Sébastien Chabal, the icon of the World Cup with posters of him all over France.

Lionel Beauxis kicked off and he did a lot of kicking after that, but so did Damien Traille and Jean-Batiste Elissalde. There was no secret that this was going to be French tactics. Their selection broadcast this to the world. It was not great kicking - just long kicking, not kicking with great chase or and attempt to win back the ball.

It seemed that France's tactic of kicking long over and over had backfired in the first half. But then, just before half-time, they threw a switch and changed lines. They started running. But their initial tactic and their changed of tactic both seemed to suck the All Blacks into an unusual and, for them, unsuitable game. Gone were the smooth runners, the clever interpassing, the switches and changes of angles that split defences apart with effortless ease and created chances for great wings. Instead they also kicked in the first half, so much so that France had 19 line-outs in the match to New Zealand's five. Then when France started running the All Blacks went on a pick-'n-drive splurge which produced just one try in many goes. True, that try with 18 minutes to go gave them a lead which could have been a winning one. But it wasn't. Stuck in a pick-'drive rut, which was largely sterile, the All Blacks it seems could not get out of it and nobody could help them out of it - not their experienced captain and not the trio of grim visages behind the technology in the stands. They abandoned their playing principles and paid the price.

The New Zealand pack was better at scrumming and, surprisingly, in the line-out. At line-out time the French were surprisingly naive. They had four line-out jumpers - five when Imañol Harinordoquy replaced Serge Betsen - but they seemed determined to throw to where New Zealand's lone jumper was, and Ali Williams won four of their line-outs. The first one came within a boot's edge of scoring the first try of the match.

The loss of Betsen after four minutes was a blow to France. He tackled Joe Rokocoko and was trying to get up when a French knee struck his head and down he went. The match stopped for some time while he was attended to, eventually leaving the field on wobbly legs. His direct hardness was a great loss to France.

Half way through the second half the All Blacks lost Daniel Carter who limped off but after a match in which he had been far less dominant than usual. Byron Kelleher went with him and their replacements, Nick Evans and Brendon Leonard, brought sharpness to the New Zealand attack - until Evans also left, apparently, with a hamstring problem.

France had a chance to score early on but Traille missed a drop attempt from in front.

When Fabien Pelous tackled Rokocoko and stayed lying on him, he was penalised and Carter opened the scoring with a straightforward penalty. 3-0 after 13 minutes.

Then came the first Williams steal at a line-out when he beat Harinordoquy in the air and suddenly Luke McAlister, who was hero and villain in this match, burst through Beauxis on a long run. The ball went left to Williams who was over in the corner but his right boot had touched the touch-line in the tackle by Vincent Clerc. France survived, but not for long.

The All Blacks took a quick throw-in from touch and again McAlister broke powerfully. He fed Jerry Collins and stayed with the rugged flank to take a pass and score in Traille's tackle. Carter converted. 10-0 after 18 minutes.

Thierry Dusautoir, bravest of the brave, went offside - a short offside when a tackle was judged to have become a ruck - and Carter made it 13-0 after 30 minutes.

The All Blacks were cruising into the semis, or so it seemed. It was an illusion for they did not score again for another 32 minutes - just as in 1999.

Then France threw the switch. They stopped their unchallenging kicking and started running. Suddenly they were challenging the All Blacks, shaking their composure and on the stroke of half-time, when Williams was penalised at a maul, Beauxis made it 13-3 with France's third penalty kick at goal. Earlier Beauxis and Elissalde had missed one each.

After a great break by Kelleher early in the second half, France had a golden chance to score when Cédric Heymans fly-kicked a loose ball downfield but was slowed in the gathering. France went right and had an overlap but a poor pass by Traille spoilt the chance of a score. Then France had a great maul on and took it to within six metres of the New Zealand line where the All Blacks collapsed the maul. On advantage France went left and Beauxis chipped. McAlister went out of his way to block Jauzion's path. This led to a penalty to France and a yellow card for McAlister. That incident may well have sown the seeds of an All Black defeat;.

Beauxis kicked the penalty and it may have seemed that the All Blacks had got off lightly as twice in that move there was the strong possibility of a French try.

Stung, the All Blacks flung themselves into the attack, no longer with the fluent phases of the first half but with staccato pick-'n-drive. They were at the line but So'oialo knocked on a wild pass and France survived.