FRANCE vs NEW ZEALAND RUGBY RIVALRY – THE PRESENT DAY – PART 3

 Malcolm Anderson

Author short introduction. Three to five lines of brief description.

Part 3 of a 3-part series on the rivalry between two of the top contenders to win the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023. The teams play the opening match of the RWC in Paris and could very well end up playing one another in the final several weeks later.

France has reached the final of the Rugby World Cup three times (1987, 1999, 2007) but have yet to hoist the trophy. On many occasions, however, it has made sure that it has influenced which team would ultimately win the trophy.

No team has suffered more from the brilliance, intensity and/or unpredictability of the French team than the All Blacks. That said, it’s not all doom and gloom for the All Blacks either, as they beat the French in the final of both the 1987 and 2011 World Cups. And in 2015, the All Blacks raked up 62 points as they defeated the French in their quarter-final match-up.

New Zealand versus France Rugby World Cup match record

Games – 7

Points Scored – All Blacks 225 France 122

2015 Quarter-Final – All Blacks 62 France 13

2011 Final – All Blacks 8 France 7

2011 Pool Group A – All Blacks 37 France 17

2007 Quarter-Final – France 20 All Blacks 18

2003 3rdPlace Play-off – All Blacks 40 France 13

1999 Semi-Final – France 43 All Blacks 31

1987 Final – All Blacks 29 France 9


Here’s a taste of some of the world cup matches in which they’ve played one another.

France scrum half Pierre Berbizier prepares to pass the ball as prop Pascal Ondarts (1) holds off All Black player Gary Whetton during the 1987 Rugby World Cup Final against New Zealand at Eden Park on June 20, 1987 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo Rusty Cheyne/ Allsport/Getty Images)
France scrum half Pierre Berbizier prepares to pass the ball as prop Pascal Ondarts (1) holds off All Black player Gary Whetton during the 1987 Rugby World Cup Final against New Zealand at Eden Park on June 20, 1987 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo Rusty Cheyne/ Allsport/Getty Images)

1987 Final – All Blacks 29 France 9 (HT All Blacks 9 France 0)

The Australians were favourites to win the first World Cup, not the All Blacks. But Australia lost to France in the semi-final 24-30, in what many consider to be one of the greatest world cup games ever played. With two minutes left in the game, and the score tied at 24-24, France broke away from in their own half with eleven players handling the ball before Serge Blanco ran into the line and scored in the corner.

Serge Blanco said that after the match, that once showered and changed, and with no-one else around they went back out onto the pitch and ‘we did a lap of honour and we sang. We sang Basque songs for half an hour.’

The All Blacks had lost 3-16 to France in ‘The Battle of Nantes’ in November 1986, and this was fresh on the minds of many. It was a brutal match. All Black legend Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford said ‘I was knocked out cold, lost a few teeth and had a few stitches down below [scrotum]. It’s a game I still can’t remember ... I don’t really want to, either.’ His injury was stitched up on the sideline (!!) and he played on until he was concussed from another head knock and had to leave the field.

But the 1987 semi-final against Australia took its toll on the French team, and in the final, the All Blacks dominated throughout, winning 29-9. Some words from the day:

Coach Brian Lochore – ‘Looking back, losing to France [in Nantes] was the best thing to happen to us. It gave us a low point to fight back from, and a memory to escape from. It gave us a new start and a fighting spirit.’

John Kirwan – ‘We always thought we would play Australia [in the final] but we knew that France were totally unpredictable. When France beat Australia, it was brilliant and for me that was fantastic and I thought, ‘Great, here we go.’

David Kirk (Captain) – before the kick-off: ‘We are the best. Every yard, every tackle, every kick, make it count. It's going to be close today, %*&$# close. So, get stuck into them right from the start; for the first 10 minutes, just think up! Up! Up! The first 10 minutes, the first 10 minutes, that's where the game will be won or lost.’

Sean Fitzpatrick – ‘My underlying memory was: “Thank God that’s out of the way.” We satisfied New Zealand and we all went back to work [amateur status back then].’

John Kirwan – stating Coach Brian Lochore’s comment: ‘We are world champions. We’ve got 100 years of history to back that and we don’t need a world cup to say we are world champions. But if we lose the first one, we’ve ruined 100 years of tradition.’

All Black Jonah Lomu attempts to split the French defence in the semi final of the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham, London, Sunday. France won 4331. (Photo by Ross Setford/Getty Images)
All Black Jonah Lomu attempts to split the French defence in the semi final of the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham, London, Sunday. France won 4331. (Photo by Ross Setford/Getty Images)

1999 Semi-Final – France 43 All Blacks 31 (HT France 10 - All Blacks 17)

One of the biggest shocks in Rugby World Cup History occurred at Twickenham on October 31 in front of a crowd of 73,000. NZ were 15/1 favourites. France entered the game having been bottom-placed in the Five Nations tournament and had lost 6 of their last eight matches. Three French players turned their backs on the haka. The All Blacks led 17-10 at half-time, with 12 points from Andrew Mehrtens and a try by Jonah Lomu. The lead increased to 24-10 soon after the half.

But then magic happened.

The French scored 33 unanswered points between the 47and 74minutes. The All Blacks scored a consolation try at the final whistle. Christophe Lamaison, who was only playing as an injury replacement for the injured Thomas Castaignede, led the charge, scoring 28 points in the match, including two dropped goals and a try.

Here’s some quotes from All Blacks at the time:

Craig Dowd – ‘It wasn’t just about the bounce of the ball, it was more their flair and skill and they grew in confidence. It was like we had one hand on the Cup and it was slipping away. By the end of the game it was crushing.’

Tana Umaga – ‘We panicked when things started to go wrong and became desperate. … It’s hard to pinpoint anything worse in my rugby career.’

Andrew Mehrtens – ‘In the end it just felt like we were chasing shadows.’

Justin Marshall – ‘There was no over-confidence. I don’t think you ever do that with the French … when my bag came through on the carousel at the airport the baggage guys had written LOSER on my suitcase. I thought it was one of the blackest chapters in NZ rugby history.’

Coach John Hart – ‘We were outplayed today … but should not have lost from 24-10. Devastated.’

Frederic Michalak of France breaks clear of the despairing tackle of Brendon Leonard of New Zealand during the Quarter Final of the Rugby World Cup 2007 match between New Zealand and France at the Millennium Stadium on October 6, 2007 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Frederic Michalak of France breaks clear of the despairing tackle of Brendon Leonard of New Zealand during the Quarter Final of the Rugby World Cup 2007 match between New Zealand and France at the Millennium Stadium on October 6, 2007 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

2007 Quarter-Final – France 20 All Blacks 18 (HT France 3 - All Blacks 13)

The All Blacks were the hot favourites to win the RWC in 2007. Despite the All Blacks getting out to a 13-0 lead, for the first time ever the team failed to make the semi-finals. The All Blacks loss at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was described as a humiliation.

The French stood on the halfway line, with an ‘aggressive intent’, about a metre from the All Blacks as they performed Ka Mate. Over 200 French tackles later, including 38 from the ‘Dark Destroyer’ Thierry Dusautoir, they had beaten the All Blacks and etched, again, another place in rugby world Cup history.  

In the dressing room at half-time one of the All Blacks said, ‘This feels like 1999.’ A fellow All Black in the dressing room noted later that ‘you could have heard a pin drop when he said that.’

The All Blacks though, seemed to be controlling the game, but after Luke McAlister was yellow-carded soon after half-time, things changed. Injuries, a likely forward pass that led to a try that was not picked up by the referee (as well as numerous penalties), and the extraordinary comeback by the French (including 13 unanswered points), saw the game taken away. Although the All Blacks battered the French line for the last 12 minutes they could not score.

Mils Muliaina – ‘We went to the World Cup as overwhelming favourites. We’d played a stimulating positive brand of rugby … we were up 13-3 and felt like we had control of the game, although nothing is ever certain, especially against France.’

Ali Williams – ‘it wasn’t obvious that things were falling to bits, it was just the scoreboard where we weren’t in front.’  

Richie McCaw – ‘Obviously, the whole country was disappointed, all the emotion, and you just thought, ‘This shouldn’t be happening’, but it was. … When we got home there was a big crowd at the airport. It was almost embarrassing, but it showed that even though they were gutted, they understood we were hurting and that made it a bit better.’

Captain Richie McCaw of the All Blacks lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after an 8-7 victory in during the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup Final match between France and New Zealand at Eden Park on October 23, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Captain Richie McCaw of the All Blacks lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after an 8-7 victory in during the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup Final match between France and New Zealand at Eden Park on October 23, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

2011 Final – All Blacks 8 France 7 (HT All Blacks 5 France 0)

The French had already lost to the All Blacks (and Tonga, 14-19) in the pool games, and were in disarray behind the scenes with immense challenges between the players and management. That said, the French were, well, the French, and anything, as history well showed, was possible.

The final was a nerve-wracking game to watch (‘trench warfare’ some observers said), let alone play, knowing that just a penalty was all the difference between the two teams going into the last 34 minutes of the match. Tony Woodcock scored a try at 15 minutes into the game. The late, late call-in to the squad - Stephen Donald – who was now, incredibly, playing in the RWC final, had joined the team due to the injuries of Dan Carter, and then Colin Slade and then Aaron Cruden – kicked a penalty in the 46minute. But one minute later Man of the Match Dusautoir scored a try that was converted by Trinh-Duc. The score remained 8-7 for the rest of the half. The entire country breathed a sigh of relief. And, of course, celebrated.

Jeremy Kaino – ‘The intensity they [the French] brought to that final was crazy … every mistake we made they would pounce on it. It was one of the toughest games I ever played … things we had planned for didn’t work out as a result of the pressure the French brought.’

Stephen Donald – ‘I was with a mate down the Waikato River all day [whitebait fishing] ... It was only later when we got into the area with better reception that I could see I missed a few calls.’ … Donald then went to join the All Blacks. …  ‘I joked with Kaks [Richard Kahui] during the week and told him if I didn’t get on with a few minutes to go he’d have to pull a hammy so I could get out there.’

Kieran Read – ‘Definitely the hardest game I’d played in my life.’

Richie McCaw – ‘I don’t know if it was the emotional stuff that had gone into that game, but I don’t think I’ve been as shattered as that … I was knackered.’

Where to from here...

And so we turn to the next RWC installment of New Zealand versus France. It’s the opening match of the RWC in France next year and promises to be one of THE matches of the finals. But it is the context of the match that differs from those presented here. For one thing, France is a hot favourite to win the Webb Ellis Cup. Second, as of the middle of 2022, the All Blacks appear to be faltering on the global rugby stage. It's extremely unlikely they will arrive in Paris as top contenders.

And they will certainly not be arriving the night before and heading out on the town for celebrations as they did the very first time the two teams met in 1906. A lot has changed!      

Next – an ‘extra-time’ Part 4 to this trilogy – The Rugby World Cup Crystal Ball – 8September 2023

 Malcolm Anderson

A kiwi from Dunedin, but living in Canada

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