All black as New Zealand mourns its defeat

NEW ZEALAND was in a state of sporting mourning yesterday as the country tried to come to terms with the mighty All Blacks' semi-final defeat by France in the rugby World Cup.

"Buggeur!" was the reaction of the Wellington Evening Post, the first newspaper to hit the news-stands on "Black Monday" after the country's shock elimination at Twickenham. The mock-French curse has become popular thanks to a New Zealand television commerical for a utility vehicle.

"The feeling is desolation, because rugby in New Zealand means as much as soccer to Britain. When there's a calamity like this, people take days off work," said Wynne Gray, who reported on the game for the New Zealand Herald.

Mr Gray, who spoke by telephone to friends back home, described the mood as "an undertaker's delight". New Zealand rugby fans stayed up until 4am local time to watch the kick-off. Others awoke yesterday to find the All Blacks had been knocked off their pedestal by the outsiders in the biggest upset since the tournament, which is played every four years, was inaugurated in 1987.

Even the All Blacks' fearsome giant winger, Jonah Lomu, could not save the team from defeat at the hands of the French, who confounded all expectations by bursting through the New Zealanders' defences with a virtuoso performance in the second half. The final score was France 43 points, New Zealand 31.

For the All Blacks, losing in the tournament at this stage is worse than their five straight defeats in 1998 and much worse than their spectacular loss in Sydney this year. Radio shows yesterday demanded the heads of the coach, John Hart, and the captain, Taine Randell, after the team's performance, which was described by one expert as "very, very ordinary".

Bowing to the result, Hart acknowledged the "devastation for the team, devastation for the fans back home and the fans that were here - we feel as though we've let everyone down. What else can you say? I can only apologise for that".

"We are the Chumpions," the Wellington Evening Post commented as the news kicked the launch of the country's electoral campaign out of the headlines.

The Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, who is trailing in the polls, noted drily: "The favourite doesn't always win."

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