Tuesday 9 October 2007

Allez Les Bleus!!

France 20-18 New Zealand

Glancing up at the big screen at half-time in the Millennium stadium the scoreline read 13-3 to the Blackness. An ominous 10 point lead it looked as well. Although New Zealand had not dominated the French as many may have expected they had looked comfortable for the majority of the opening forty minutes. They were winning French lineout ball, dealing comfortably with the French counter-rucking and defence, McAlister scything through the line of blue defenders more than once. The Kiwis had engineered the only try of the match so far, McAlister touching down after a rampaging Jerry Collins had rumbled forward taking several defenders with him. The Blacks took their chances methodically and professionally, the French bottled two early kicks and a drop goal attempt before finally getting on the board just before half with a Lionel Beauxais penalty.

With things looking potentially disastrous the French came out in the second half with a new approach. Taking a leaf from the All Blacks' book they ran everything right back a New Zealand and caught the Kiwis unprepared. The French revival was ferocious, the tempo they kept the game at was too much for the All Blacks. Their golden boy in the first half McAlister was sin-binned early on for desperately tying to slow the French down. Shortly afterwards the usually infallible Dan Carter missed with a penalty attempt of his own, the perfect Blacks were making mistakes and the French smelt blood.

Led by new arrival on the paddock, one Monsieur Sebastien Chabal, the French attacked mercilessly pressing the Kiwis into their own half and eventually generating enough of an overlap for Dusautoir to slip through for the try. At 13-13 Graham Henry seemed to panic. Mass New Zealand subs after the try saw Dan Carter, Byron Kelleher and Anton Oliver leave the field. The shot of the dejected trio in the stands looking positively shell-shocked went up on the big screen. The roar from the French support inside the Millennium stadium was deafening. The All Blacks were broken.

New Zealand, badly shaken by the expansive French play came on all conservative after the Dusautoir try using their forwards to pound the ball into the French 22 were Rodney So'ialo touched down for a second All Blacks try which McAlister failed to convert. Trailing 18-13 with fifteen minutes to go, Bernard Laporte played his trump card, the mercurial joker of the pack, Frederic Michalek. With almost his first touch of the ball the enigmatic Frenchman was streaking down the wing. With New Zealand defenders rushing across to close him off the break appeared to be about to come to naught. Michalek went to ground, looking for support runners. He delayed his pass waiting for fellow-Toulouse player Yannick Jauzion to cut the line that would break Kiwi hearts. The big centre crashed over and Elliasade added the two to leave France 20-18 up with ten minutes to go.

What followed was a Herculean effort by both teams. With the Blackness pressing hard for a game winning try (apparently they don't know what a drop-goal is in New Zealand) the French tackled themselves to a stand still (178 tackles to New Zealand's 36 in the game) and a lame attempt by McAlister at a drop goal drifted embarrassingly wide. At the final whistle, joy was unconfined for the French who march on to meet an average English team in the semi-finals.

Allez Les Bleus!!
Booooo England

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