September 22, 2011
New Zealand celebrate their try en route to their 1987 triumph © Getty Images
As soon as the Rugby World Cup schedule was announced eyes were immediately drawn to the meeting of two of the sport's heavyweights - France and New Zealand.
The two sides have a long and storied history but two key matches on the World Cup stage - in 1999 and 2007 - dominate recent memory with France cheekily marking those notable successes in the design of their latest kit.
New Zealand hold the all-time advantage having won 36 of their 49 Test clashes since 1906 but France are the current holders of the Dave Gallaher Trophy, contested since 2000, thanks to their aggregate win over a two-Test series in 2009. Rainbow Warrior, a try from the end of the world and a lacerated testicle; it's all here in this week's Scrum Sevens as we look back at some classic encounters between these two sides.
The 1906 clash was a match of firsts. It was France's inaugural international Test while it was also on this tour that the Kiwis first donned their now traditional all-black kit and performed the now world-famous haka. The New Zealand team which travelled to the to Europe from Aotearoa was labelled the 'Originals' as they wer seen as rugby pioneersand the tour has since taken on legendary status with the All Blacks losing just one of their 35 matches and scoring an astounding 976 points and conceding just 59.
The match against France took place on New Year's Day in Paris at the Parc des Princes. The aforementioned Gallaher captained the Kiwis with Henri Amand skippering the French. The Kiwis were in imperious form scoring ten tries and winning 38-8. But it was not all one-way traffice with the two tries France scored and their eight point total the most the New Zealanders conceded whilst on tour.
While on tour Gallaher and Billy Stead wrote 'The Complete History of the Rugby Footballer' and commented on France saying: "We are strongly of the opinion that the game will spread in their country and that in the course of time they will put a team in the field which will command the utmost respect of any other."
France entered this clash on the back of a 19-7 the previous week in Toulouse and not many gave them a chance of repeating the feat against an All Blacks side set on revenge. For Buck Shelford - in just his second Test for the Kiwis - the match holds painful memories in more ways than one.
Finding himself on the bottom of a ruck in the 20th minute, a stray boot found Shelford's groin and the result was a lacerated testicle. Despite the eye-watering infliction, Shelford played on and finished the match with several less teeth and concussion the icing on the cake - a feat honoured by a video tribute to the Kiwi great. France took the game 16-3 - not that Shelford cares to remember the match labelling it as a "faux pas."
"I was knocked out cold, lost a few teeth and had a few stitches down below," Shelford said when recalling the match. "It's a game I still can't remember - I have no memory of it whatsoever. I had to watch a video to realise what the game was actually like. I don't even remember what the score was, I don't really want to either. It was one of the toughest Test matches I have ever played."
It was the perfect setting. The World Cup Final at Eden Park. New Zealand were determined to exact revenge for the loss in Nantes the year before and eventually claimed a 29-9 win that helped Shelford bury some painful memories. "We wanted to play them in the final because we wanted revenge," he said and that is what they got. John Kirwan crossed the line - shattering the corner flag in the process - along with Michael Jones and captain David Kirk.
Despite the clear importance of the win for New Zealand rugby, the game also helped improve diplomatic relations off the field following the controversial Rainbow Warrior affair back in 1985.
France journeyed to New Zealand in late June 1994 having been turned over in their previous five meetings. France took the opening clash at Lancaster Park in Christchurch against the odds with a 22-8 victory to celebrate winger Phillipe Sella's 100th cap.
In the second Test at Eden Park, France were four points 20-16 down with three minutes left on the clock but produced one of the greatest ever tries to turn the game. The ball passed through nine different players before Jean-Luc Sadourny dotted it down. France captain Philippe Saint-Andre labelled it the "counter-attack from the end of the world" but this soon turned into 'L'essai du bout du Monde'. The result is even more notable due to the fact that the All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park ever since.
France were hammered 54-7 by the All Blacks in June 1999 and so were given little chance of victory ahead of their World Cup semi-final showdown at Twickenham just a few short months later.
The All Blacks were firmly in control leading 24-10 early in the second-half but they had little answer to a sensational spell of rugby from the French that produced 26 points in the next 30 minutes. Fly-half Christophe Lamaison ended the game with a full-house - a penalty, drop-goal, try and a conversion - to leave the Kiwis disgruntled and wondering what might have been. Describing the game will not do it justice - so instead have a look at the highlights.
All Blacks coach John Hart found it difficult to forget the loss. Upon arriving back in New Zealand, he went to Addington to see his horse run in the New Zealand Trotting Cup. The reaction to his presence was not well received by the Kiwi public. "They spat at me and threw cans of beer at my horse," Hart said. "That was one of the worst decisions I've made, it was a sad day. That affected me for a long while. We absolutely lost our way and turned in on ourselves."
The only time the two sides have played out a draw was in Paris in November 2002. It was a heated affair with New Zealand having three players yellow carded during the course of the game - Christian Cullen, Mark Robinson and Kees Meeuws all fell foul of the referee's pocket - leading Taine Randell to say: "If I was American and I was asked about the referee, I would claim the fifth amendment."
In all fairness, France should have taken the game and would have if Francois Gelez had brought his kicking boots. Gelez had a kick in front of the posts 40 metres out in the dying embers of the match. The wind blew the ball over and Gelez picked it up to replace it on the tee only to knock the ball on. His confidence shattered, Gelez also missed a penalty with the last kick of the game. Despite France squandering the chance to take the win, the then France coach Bernard Laporte summed up the game saying: "Fate decreed that the Tri-Nations winners and the Six Nations champions should leave the field on equal terms."
The All Blacks were odds on favourites to win the World Cup in 2007 - it was theirs to lose. But a familiar foe stood in their way in the quarter-finals in the form of the French at the Millennium Stadium. France had received an absolute hammering the previous summer although Sebastien Chabal had left his mark on Ali Williams in Wellington.
But as we now know - the All Blacks 'choked' once again with referee Wayne Barnes taking much of the flack for missing a forward pass in the build-up to Yannick Jauzion's crucial try. The match finished with France having made an astonishing 269 tackles compared to New Zealand's 57. Despite the Kiwis' dominance and the controversial decision by Barnes, Graham Henry refused to blame the English official saying: "France had an astute game plan. They defended superbly, with huge passion, unlike many French sides of recent years. Credit to France. That's sport, isn't it?"
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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