Flashback: The greatest game of all time?

Date published: November 2 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.

This week we head to Twickenham in 1999, when France and New Zealand served up one of the greatest matches of all time in the Rugby World Cup semi-final.

OCTOBER 31, 1999

New Zealand, as has often been the case in history, were enormous favourites heading into the 1999 RWC’s second semi-final given the presence of an all-conquering Jonah Lomu out on the wing.

Lomu had already scored twice, taking his tally for the tournament to eight, the first a ridiculous display of bowling-ball running as he sent French tacklers flying.

Once the great wing had scored his second, intertwining with Jeff Wilson and then hitting the accelerator, the All Blacks were cruising up 24-10 and eyeing up their third World Cup final place in four attempts.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly. And then France turned up.

Jonah Lomu France New Zealand 1999

31 Oct 1999: Jonah Lomu of New Zealand runs with the ball during the Rugby Union World Cup 1999 match against France played at Twickenham, in London / Mandatory Credit: Dave Rogers /Allsport

Desperately needing a spark, Christophe Lamaison delivered for les Bleus by drawing them level thanks to two penalties and two drop goals – all within the space of eight minutes.

Then came a try out of nowhere. Fabien Galthié’s clearing box kick looked inoccuous, taking an age to bounce between Wilson and New Zealand wing Tana Umaga.

Their hesitation gave Christophe Dominici the time he needed to shoot through a gap to the ball before sprinting away, producing a roar from the Twickenham crowd more worthy of an England try than one by their fiercest rivals.

That sound level barely dipped as an inspired France marched on. Flooding numbers into a rolling maul, sucking in defenders, Lamaison’s perfectly-timed chip found craters of space behind the All Blacks defensive line for Richard Dourthe to swoop in to score.

Following the conversion from Lamaison, France had scored 26 unanswered points in just 13 minutes.

Time was against New Zealand heading into the final ten minutes but an attacking scrum on the edge of the French 22 offered up a chance to hit back.

A loose Andrew Mehrtens pass to Umaga snuffed out the chance, an error compounded by Olivier Magne hacking the ball upfield with New Zealand’s defence all out of position.

Philippe Bernat-Salles had the pace to beat both Magne and the covering Wilson to the ball, celebrating with his arms outstretched as the French supporters in the crowd erupted.

Les Bleus were through to their second final, after all the odds had seemed against them at the start of the second half. Packed full of memorable tries, it’s hard to dispute that this fixture ranks among the game’s very best.

Is it the greatest ever though? Let us know in the comments.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: Lamaison, Dominici, Dourthe, Bernat-Salles
Cons: Lamaison 4
Pens: Lamaison 3
Drop Goals: Lamaison 2

For New Zealand:
Tries: Lomu 2, Wilson
Cons: Mehrtens 2
Pens: Mehrtens 4

France: 15 Xavier Garbajosa, 14 Philippe Bernat-Salles, 13 Richard Dourthe, 12 Émile Ntamack, 11 Christophe Dominici, 10 Christophe Lamaison, 9 Fabien Galthié, 8 Christophe Juillet, 7 Olivier Magne, 6 Marc Lièvremont, 5 Fabien Pelous, 4 Abdelatif Benazzi, 3 Franck Tournaire, 2 Raphaël Ibanez (c), 1 Cedric Soulette
Replacements: 16 Marc dal Maso, 17 Pieter de Villiers, 18 Olivier Brouzet, 19 Arnaud Costes, 20 Stéphane Castaignède, 21 Stéphane Glas, 22 Ugo Mola

New Zealand: 15 Jeff Wilson, 14 Tana Umaga, 13 Christian Cullen, 12 Alama Ieremia, 11 Jonah Lomu, 10 Andrew Mehrtens, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Taine Randell (c), 7 Josh Kronfeld, 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Robin Brooke, 4 Norm Maxwell, 3 Craig Dowd, 2 Anton Oliver, 1 Carl Hoeft
Replacements: 16 Mark Hammett, 17 Kees Meeuws, 18 Royce Willis, 19 Andrew Blowers, 20 Justin Marshall, 21 Tony Brown, 22 Daryl Gibson

Referee: Jim Fleming (Scotland)

31 Oct 1999: Philippe Bernat-Selles of France celebrates after beating New Zealand to win the Semi Final match of the Rugby World Cup played at Twickenham in London, England. France won the game 43-31. Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport

31 Oct 1999: Philippe Bernat-Selles of France celebrates after beating New Zealand to win the Semi-Final match of the Rugby World Cup played at Twickenham in London, England / Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport