France triumphed over the All Blacks in Eden Park, Auckland by 19-24 for their first ever victory in New Zealand. Although they had played fixtures since 1906, France had never conquered the All Blacks on their turf until this auspicious day. Games against the All Blacks and South Africa were always referred to by French commentators as Fiasco aux Antipodes.
Renowned French rugby writer Henri Garcia christened the day La Dernière Bastille. The team led by Jean Pierre Rives had a pack which were drawn from the 1977 Grand Slam team and were referred to as Casque d’Or by the French media.
Although, France also beat the All Blacks 20 –23 in Auckland on 3 July 1994 , there is no doubt that the French rugby memory recalls the Bastille day victory with the greater relish.
Alone of the Northern hemisphere teams, and that includes the British & Irish Lions, the French have beaten the New Zealanders home and away in every decade since that fateful day in the 1970’s. Whilst the French admire the All Black fanaticism and like the New Zealand people (Alors, ils boivent du vin, n’est pas?), they do not hold them in awe, unlike their English-speaking neighbours.
But the Mole has noticed that France have only played New Zealand twice in October and have been victorious on both occasions. On Halloween in the 1999 World Cup semi-final at Twickenham, France triumphed, in possibly the greatest ever Rugby World Cup game, by a score of 31 – 43. That they went on to lose against Australia by the embarrassing margin of 35-12 was considered at the time a disgrace by the French rugby public. However the exploits of those Australian players in subsequent years reduced the embarrassment of that defeat.
For New Zealand rugby fanatics (the entire population plus 60% of their émigrés), 6 October 2007 Q/F RWC at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff represents the day of the greatest coaching failure for an all Blacks team in the past 50 years. France won by 18 – 20 in a game in which it appeared that no All Black player had ever heard of a drop goal as a method of scoring.
For the French however, this was a day of enormous celebration as they maintained their challenge to appear in the Final in their beloved Paris on the first occasion that the World Cup had been hosted by France. Captain Thierry Dusatoire stunned the rugby world with an incredible 35 tackles during this game and, outside of New Zealand, rugby fans celebrated the result.
In convincing their New Zealand Rugby Board colleagues to retain them for another four years after the 2007 debacle, the Mole reckons that Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hanson each merited at least an Oscar because, other than the performance of Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, this was the most ‘hung jury’ in history. However, whatever they said, that Board decision has been validated by much of what the All Blacks have produced over the past four years, but final judgement will be delivered next Sunday and nothing, but nothing, other than a death sentence for the French will satisfy this time.
France and New Zealand have met four times in Rugby World Cups and excluding this year’s Pool game, the score stands at 2-2. The sole logic for that exclusion is the pre-World Cup statement of French Coach Marc Lièvremont that “My team can beat New Zealand in the World Cup, but only once!” However, perhaps the books are better balanced by recognition that New Zealand has only once beaten France in the knock-out stages of the World Cup, in that 1987 inaugural Final.
The Mole has always had a soft spot for French rugby as played against the Southern Hemisphere giants. The arrogance with which they regularly defeat Ireland always seems to transpose itself into noble defiance when posed against the southern giants from NZ or South Africa.
But will the prize of World Cup Champions be sufficient motivation for the French? So often it has appeared that they need an emotional trigger outside of the game itself to reach into their souls and produce greatness. Rainbow Warrior, Bastille Day, Sella’s 100th Cap or World Cup glory in Paris have been the spurs previously. What external cause will they adopt for next Sunday?
It’s hardly likely that the inspiration will come from the words of Lièvremont. In the English – speaking world there have been books published on the malapropisms of George Bush and Homer Simpson but for the French they can corner the market with the ill-advised utterances of Lièvremont in this World Cup alone.
His latest tirade, in the aftermath of a World Cup semi-final from which finished his players left the changing rooms after mid-night (due to the 9 pm local kick-off time) and indulged until 3 a.m. in a couple of glasses of wind-down wine and beer, described his players as “self-indulgent brats” because they had missed the curfew by an hour. The Senegalese-born coach, who is marginally older than some of the players in this tournament, appears to have totally forgotten what the effects of adrenaline are like for players fuelled by physical endeavour and emotion in equal parts. The inability to slow-down and stop, the necessity to talk yourselves out, to rationalise what has not yet been achieved but is within your grasp!
So, for the French players and only them, the Mole has a thought. Perhaps, the external motivation that you require to trigger a performance which demonstrates the cumulative skills you have shown so often for Clermont, Biarritz, Toulouse, Montpellier and Racing, is right in front of you. Perhaps it is Monsieur Marc himself or rather his misadventures that can become your rallying call. Bon Chance Monsieurs