All Blacks are magnifique

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The Independent Online
France 12

New Zealand 37

HOW sweet the revenge. A week after their surprising defeat by France, the All Blacks rediscovered their style and swept all before them. It was not that we needed a reminder, but they provided one anyway: they may not be champions of the world this year, but they certainly have provided the best rugby the world has seen.

This was a magnificent match; the French were delightful, the All Blacks devastating and they put together a conflict of incredible ferocity. So ferocious, in fact, that Jonah Lomu at one stage lost his head, went looking for that of Thomas Castaignede and had to be held back from the fray. For most of the game, however, Lomu was back in the thick of it. The French nailed him at first, but as the game wore on, he was allowed another yard to move in and began to reap the familiar destruction.

His improvement from last week's loss in Toulouse mirrored that of the rest of his side. In the line-out, they were outstanding and when Justin Marshall, the debutant scrum-half, did receive untidy ball, he proved perfectly capable of coping with it. In Toulouse, the problem had been an ability to feed the talent of the All Black backs, but yesterday Marshall was the link man his side required and Simon Culhane, at stand-off, was more able to control and vary the game. By no means did they spin the ball on every occasion, but by the time they had run in four tries and completed their revenge, they were cheered back into the Parc des Princes for a lap of honour and a wave goodbye.

The start of this game was quite simply scintillating. End to end, hand to hand, the fire roaring in both sides and the heat of battle rising so high that after half an hour, the referee had to take both captains aside and explain that, really, it was time to cool it.

By this stage, New Zealand were 5-14 ahead, and yet it had seemed minutes earlier that they would be chasing such a deficit, not creating it. They had conceded a try after six minutes and managed to power their way back into the opposition 22, but then, on the point of redressing the balance, they had a pass intercepted and were humiliated to see the French put together one of those gorgeous silky moves that goes the length of the pitch and finishes under the posts. This, however, was the last such move by the French in the first half - though there were two delightful breaks from deep in the second - and the try was disallowed anyway. France had been offside and were penalised for it - as they were on a number of occasions - in front of their own posts, Culhane kicked his second penalty to put New Zealand ahead and there they stayed for the rest of the game.

The try count was 1-1 for the first half, but the All Blacks' domination was reflected in the five penalties that punished French infringements whenever they got close and Robin Brooke was so magnificent at recycling from the restarts that the French hardly left their own side. Eric Rush's try, bursting on to a short pass from Frank Bunce, was something of a gem, though the first score from Philippe Saint-Andre, which had sparked the game into furious life, was not bad either. By half-time, the All Blacks were too far ahead to be caught, but their pace only relented when they had put three more tries behind them. The first of these was a marvellous run into the line from Glen Osborne who ignored Lomu outside him, deciding to beat Jean-Luc Sadourny on his own. The next was Ian Jones's and the last was fittingly from Lomu, crashing through numerous Frenchmen to touch down under the posts and reap just rewards for his enormous contribution.

The All Blacks may just have had enough, 32 points ahead and 10 minutes to go, but not the French who stole a stunning finish. If everyone else knew the game was up, they appeared not to themselves and after Saint- Andre had touched down again in the corner to slim the deficit, the stadium was filled with a succession of sighs as the comeback came alive and then died as three times more they threatened to score and fell just short. So close yet, as the final scoreline showed, so very far.

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'Tamack (Toulouse), R Dourthe (Dax), T Castaignede (Toulouse), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); A Penaud (Brive), P Carbonneau (Toulouse); L Benezech (Racing Club), M de Rougemont (Toulon), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle (Montferrand), F Pelous (Dax), P Benetton, A Benazzi (Agen), A Carminati (Brive). Replacements: S Graou (Colomiers) for Califano (h-t); M Lievremont (Perpignan) for Carminati (74).

NEW ZEALAND: G Osborne; E Rush, F Bunce, W Little (all North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); S Culhane (Southland), J Marshall (Canterbury); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke (all Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), M Jones, Z Brooke (Auckland), L Barry (North Harbour). Replacement: R Loe (Canterbury) for Dowd (80).

Referee: P Marshall (Australia).

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