Saturday, October 06, 2007

Black & Blue

We knew both teams meant business, when France stood just inches in front of the Kiwis as they performed their Haka. And they never blinked. And the French obviously thought old heads were best to front up to the All Blacks - their front row's combined age was 103!

In the 5th minute, big bruiser Serge Betsen [left] took a very heavy hit as he tackled Joe Rokocoko, appearing to get knocked out briefly. He looked extremely groggy once he'd come round, and was ushered off the pitch on the advice of the doctors. Imanol Harinordoquy replaced him and the game resumed.

The French won a penalty, took a lineout and then attacked into the All Blacks half - Damien Traille (a surprise selection at Fullback) attempted a drop goal but pulled it wide.

Both teams were scrapping well on the floor, desperate for turnover ball. The two fullbacks seemed to play a lot of ping pong too - smashing it from one end of the field to the other. Les Bleus were also up for the defence, putting in plenty of tackles. In the 12th minute, France gave away a penalty in their own half, Dan Carter [right] stepped up to take the kick, and New Zealand had the first points on the board, 3-0.

A French lineout was stolen by New Zealand, with Luke McAlister making a superb break. Support from Rodney So'oialo passing to Ali Williams who was just bundled into touch before he could cross the line. A minute later, the Kiwis were on the attack again, with Jerry Collins putting Luke McAlister over for their first try. Carter converted to take them to 10-0.

In the 24th minute, New Zealand found themselves on the wrong side of a ruck, but Lionel Beauxis couldn't add the points for France. Then the Allblacks won another penalty in the 31st minute - Carter had no trouble slotting it over the posts from 40-odd meters, leavinf France trailing by 13 points.

The French had a chance with a lineout in the All Blacks half. They won it, swung it from side to side, and forced a penalty. Since Beauxis' boot didn't seem to be accurate, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde stepped forward for the kick - he didn't have any more luck. So six points thrown away so far.

In the dying seconds of the half, France got another penalty and Beauxis was back for the kick - which he finally struck well. Three points on the board at last.

The first score in the second half was vital, New Zealand certainly lookwd the more hungry for it, until the French broke into the Kiwi's half in the 44th minute. They came up just short of the line, and New Zealand cleared. Veteran Hooker Raphael Ibañez [left] took the lineout throw one-handed, as is his style. The French went for the line, and Luke McAlister was judged to have obstructed the attack and was sent to the bin for ten minutes. Beauxis added the three points to bring them back to 13-6 behind.

The All Black forwards had a go at pick and drive, time after time, inching up to the French line in the 49th minute. But they knocked on and so the French had to take a 5m scrum. Soon after, at 51 minutes, two crucial substitutions were made - Chris Jack coming on for Keith Robinson, Dmitri Sarzewski on for Ibañez, and Sébastien Chabal on for Fabien Pelous.

France did monumentally well to score in the 54th minute, with Thierry Dusautoir [right] going over for a converted try. 13-13. Game on! Worryingly for the Kiwis, Dan Carter limped off in the field in the 56th minute, closely followed by Byron Kelleher.

With 20 minutes to go, both teams were figthing for extra points. Jerry Collins was pinged at the scrum for being offside, and France drilled the ball into the All Blacks half, but the lineout was nicked by the blacks. France were pushed back into their own half and on the defensive. Pushing up from 2m, Rodney So'oialo [left] dived over for a try on the line. McAlister was unable to convert, so the Kiwis were just 5 points ahead, 18-13.

France brought on Freddie Michalak and almost his first touch saw him breaking up the pitch, he passed to Yannick Jauzion [left], who ran for his life to the tryline. It was an easy conversion, and France were ahead for the first time, 18-20. I'm sure the All Blacks didn't think this was in the script!

As the minutes ticked by, France still kept attacking, either with huge kicks to touch or the hard way, ruck by ruck. In the 74th minute, it was New Zealand on the attack, but the French defended hard. Still the Kiwi's kept up the pressure, inching towards the whitewash. 10m, 6m, 3m and France turned it over! The clearance kick across field fell into Chris Jack's hands, but he wasn't fast enough to run it anywhere before the French defence bore down on him.

The All Blacks swung it wide again, and still the French turned it over, with a kick out of the pitch to clear this time. 90 seconds to go, and the Kiwis had an attacking lineout in the French half, but it was a long way to work the ball upfield. Andrew Hoare threw in, New Zealand retained possession but were knocked back towards their half. Luke McAlister tried a drop goal, but it was nowhere near.

20 seconds to go, a 22m dropout. Michalak kicked, the Kiwis collected, passing out wide to the left. The clock went over 80 minutes. Still the All Blacks had possession. France turned over, and Elissalde ran for his life, kicked to touch, and Cardiff erupted with waving tricouleurs.

What a pulsating last few minutes! And who would have put money on that result? New Zealand must have been gutted. And frankly, I'm much happier that England are facing Les Bleus next week, rather than Les Noirs

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