All Blacks vs France
Saturday, 28th June, 2003
Jade Stadium @ Lancaster Park, Christchurch
Ref: Andre Watson
Halftime: NZ 19 - France 13
Fulltime: NZ 31 - France 23
Well if the real-time match reports that some websites provide are called live match reports then this one is well and truely dead, but it's not buried yet...
So here you have it, a match report for Saturday night's test match, just limping into completion on Wednesday night. As you've come to expect from Rugbyheads, another incredibly timely and indepth piece of journalism. Yeah right, whatever.
First things first. This was an entertaining and highly competitive game of rugby. If you want a full blow-by-blow match report then get that elsewhere, this report is going to focus on my experience watching the game live, and my thoughts on the performance of both teams.
Pre-match favouritism for the All Blacks was extremely high, and the fact that this French team had just lost two close games in Argentina and had been permanently labelled as "second-string" didn't help their fight for credibility with the NZ rugby public or the TAB.
I admit I was expecting a comfortable win by the ABs too, although I, like every NZ rugby fan who hasn't blacked them out, have lived through enough heart-breaking loses to a French side that we were supposed to beat to be totally confident of a thrashing.
Since this is the one and only game the that All Blacks play in Christchurch this season (damn you incompetent NZRU and crafty John Oneill!) it was only right to attend in person.
I went to the game with an interesting couple of mates, Gary (and American) and Rob (an Australian). Despite their cultural heritage both are big NZ rugby fans, at least when the Eagles and Wallabies aren't involved.
So the evening started at the Tap Room, on the strip in downtown Chch. The bar was really getting into the occasion giving away a free feed of a bbq'd venison pattie or a handful of bbq'd snails with every drink bought. No surprise that the venison was in short supply, although Gary did initially order the snails (just to show off his french) before opting for the venison because it looked too good to resist (something the snails definitely struggled to achieve!) That made for a good appetiser and the souvlaki that we scoffed on our way to Jade Stadium solved the rest of the rumbles.
We had seats in the front of the No 1 stand, which gave us a great view of the All Black tryline in the first half, the big screen and the big new Western stand. The weather was pretty much perfect for night rugby and the pre-match festivities definitely got the crowd psyched.
Both anthems were awesome, sung by a kiwi opera singer who was obviously angling for a singing gig in Paris (or at least at the World cup later this year)! The ABs stirred things up even more with their haka (Carlos does a good job leading that I have to say) and the atmosphere was humming as Andre blew his whistle for kickoff.
The first 10 minutes or so were pretty much a feeling out period, with both teams getting some possession and having a chance to use it, but the next 20 were just All Black magic.
The 3 tries the ABs scored in this period were all great, and Joe Rokstar was the man doing the finishing on all of them. The first one was pretty much setup by a storming run from Jerry Collins and some quick ruck ball when he was finally brought down, which resulted in Rokocoko getting some space out wide to spin out of a flailing french tackle and dot down. Carter slotted the tricky conversion and kicked very well all night, only missing 2 out of 8.
Rokocokocokocoko's (that's fun to type...) second try was a stunner. From a AB lineout win on halfway (which was worth noting in itself) the backs got some good attacking ball and Carlos timed his pass back inside to a steaming Rokocoko perfectly to put him in a big gap. As soon as he was in the clear you could just see him make the decision he was going to take the fullback on and go all the way. I don't think he even considered that the french winger outside him was a threat, he just planted the boot and his gas got him home, bisecting the two tacklers right on the try line, only about 30m away from us. Sensational.
This is definitely the best AB try I have seen in the flesh, and one of the best I have seen for a while. The third try was another team try, with a good attacking raid from the whole team seeing Carter and Somerville both get close to scoring and then with the French defense stretched the ball was swung back the other way and Joe Rok was the man on the spot to dot down.
So with 30 minutes gone it looked like the scoreline was going to reflect the pre-match expectations of the NZ rugby public and I'm sure everyone watching (well, all the kiwi fans at least) expected the french to lie down and let the black tide rush over them, just like the Welsh had the week before.
But it was not to be. I don't think the French really focussed on the scoreline at all they just kept contesting every facet of the game as well as they could (which was pretty damn well in the end) and slowly they clawed their way back into it.
By half-time they had slotted another penalty and scored a nice try of their own and the scoreline of 19-13 looked pretty tight.
And pretty tight is a great description of the second half.
In the second spell the All Blacks still had the advantage in the territory stakes but it was far more even and the possession was pretty much 50-50.
The All Blacks had a couple of good try scoring opportunities in the second spell but for one reason or another they were foiled. Whether it was through a very questionable forward pass call from ref Watson where Howlett fed Devine who had Mccaw unmarked inside him with a clear run under the posts, or by some good french defense, particularly when they managed to come up with the ball as Kees "the Rhino" Meeuws appeared to have driven over the line in the corner.
Their superior field position paid off though as Carter slotted three more penalties to give the ABs a comfortable 28-13 lead with about 15 minutes to go.
This was a bit like the point in the first half where the ABs had a 19-3 lead, the boys in black, and their supporters all seemed to relax a little, assuming the game was won. Unfortunately no-one told the french.
They picked up the pace and strung some good phases together themselves (I was impressed with their handling and offloading) and looked likely to score their second try.
This was made all the more likely when about 5 minutes after it happened Andre Watson got the message from one of his touch judges that Reuben Thorne had taken a swing at a frenchie in the ruck and it must be dealt with accordingly.
Well if you are a ref then accordingly means put your hand in the pocket and pull out a magic card, so it was 10 in the bin for the AB skipper with about 11 minutes to go in the match.
I only know that Thorne was marched for punching from watching the highlights on TV the next day, at the ground nobody had any clue. In fact they way it played out it appeared that Thorne was sent off for back-chatting Andre!
Anyway the french didn't use their copy of the AB vs England game to decide what to do with a numerical advantage in players, and duely scored a nice try under the posts to pull them within 8 points, 20-28.
Now the tension level in the crowd rose again. For the first time in the match the reality that the French could actually win dawned on the fans in Black, and with a man down it was a distinct possibility. The AB's did seem to learn something from the England game though as they focussed on controlling possession and using up some clock.
For what seemed like an age they rumbled the ball up and had numerous cracks at the French line in the corner. This was completely unsighted for us so we were watching it intently on the big screen. In fact I was watching so intently that I forgot that I was actually at the ground I reckon. I wasn't until the French reclaimed possession and kicked it down field, through my field of vision that I snapped out of it and realised that this was all taking place in front of me!
The French swung back onto attack and when given an option at a 45m penalty kick they took it, and slotted it. 23-28 and the French were coming home strong. yikes!
The ABs didn't panic though and continued the territorial game with Carlos kicking deep at the restart and the AB defense forcing the French to clear.
Amazingly we won the resulting lineout and mounted another attack which resulted in a penalty chance for the Carter from about 25m out. The young fella slotted it calmly and the game was safe, 31-23 was the final score.
The obvious AB highlights of the match for me were Joe Rokocoko's first half hat-trick of tries but I thought Dan Carter was the next best AB back, followed by Mils Muliaina (rhymes with Woolly Hyena). Carlos and Devine went pretty well overall but both ran their players into trouble far too often and didn't really seem to kick for territory as much as they could, especially in the second half.
Where we struggled the most was in the forwards, and that is certainly where the French competed so well, especially in the second half. I read after the game that the French lineouts were mostly won by their loose forwards, and their locks tend to do more lifting, which is a cunning plan I reckon and possibly a good role for Brad Thorn to play when he comes on (although he did win some good lineout ball so it's not like he's a liability there).
Probably the worst performed AB forward was Ali Williams, and the best performers were Jerry Collins, Richie Mccaw and Chris Jack. The rest of the pack really didn't dominate and I'm certainly in the "jury is out" camp on big Ruby at No 6, although I can't see Mitch and Robbie dropping their captain now, no matter how much Testrof complains on the RH board. :)
All in all though it was an entertaining game and the home team won, so I don't think we should get too worked up.
With Argentina pushing SA so close on Sunday I really think that the Kiwi (and Aussie and SA to a lesser extent) rugby fan needs to face facts and accept that the days of the 3N teams, and particularly our boys in Black, dominating all comers is well and truely gone.
Based on the matches this June as I see it the top 5 for the RWC at this stage are England, NZ, Australia, France, South Africa, and the drop off to Ireland, Scotland and Argentina isn't very far after that.
I don't feel super-confident that this ABs will win the RWC, but we're definitely right up there, and in better shape at this stage than our Tri-Nations opponents. Just how much better will be shown in a week or two.
Bring it on!