Flashback: ‘That’ pass to Michalak

Date published: October 5 2016

In the latest edition of our series, we look back at this week in history and pick out a key moment from rugby’s archives.

Today we’re going back to one of the more famous passes in Rugby World Cup history, which happened on the same day the All Blacks lost a Rugby World Cup match no less.

October 6, 2007

Frédéric Michalak, this week’s star, cantered away on a break to set up Yannick Jauzion for the match-winning score in Cardiff in a 20-18 victory.

France then clung on to knock New Zealand out of the 2007 tournament, with Thierry Dusautoir possessed at openside flanker, creating one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history.

But all the attention centred on one moment – Damien Traille’s pass to Michalak. Graham Henry went on to describe it in his autobiography as “a pass so forward everyone in the stadium had witnessed it except the referee”.

Other factors came into play – a lopsided penalty count, frequent infringements at the breakdown, and the fact that with Mils Muliaina at 13 the All Blacks never felt truly cohesive, even though they romped through the pool stages.

Traille’s pass however is the moment that everyone remembers. New Zealand were out, and France followed them shortly afterwards in the semi-finals against England.

Which might be why Michalak doesn’t remember the quarter-final shock as fondly as you might expect, as he told The Dominion Post the following year:

“In France, the World Cup is forgotten because we lost the next week to England. When you beat New Zealand it is like you are the world champions but the competition wasn’t finished.”

Richie McCaw’s take, as per his 2012 book ‘The Open Side’: “As I drag [Traille] down, he offloads to Frédéric Michalak on his outside. The pass has to be forward – my head is on Traille’s left shoulder, he can’t pass it through me. Traille throws the pass two metres short of halfway and Michalak takes it on the halfway line.

“As I hit the ground I see assistant referee Jonathan Kaplan right in line. Barnes is back behind us and might have been obscured, but Kaplan, so keen to assert himself in the first half, says nothing. By the time I look back up, I see the end of a brilliant French move – Jauzion diving across the line for the try.

“This can’t be happening.”

And yet it did. Does winning the next two Rugby World Cups soften the blow for All Blacks supporters? Or did Nehe Milner-Skudder’s suspected forward pass in the 2015 final against Australia “balance things out”, so to speak? Let us know in the comments.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries: McAlister, So’oialo
Con: Carter
Pens: Carter 2
Yellow Card: McAlister

For France:
Tries: Dusautoir, Jauzion
Cons: Beauxis, Elissalde
Pens: Beauxis 2

New Zealand: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Mils Muliaina, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Keith Robinson, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Anton Oliver, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Nick Evans, 22 Isaia Toeava

France: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 David Marty, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Cédric Heymans, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Serge Betsen, 5 Jérôme Thion, 4 Fabien Pelous, 3 Pieter de Villiers, 2 Raphaël Ibanez (c), 1 Olivier Milloud
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Sébastien Chabal, 19 Imanol Harinordoquy, 20 Frédéric Michalak, 21 Christophe Dominici, 22 Clément Poitrenaud

Referee: Wayne Barnes