France give All Blacks blues

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France 22

New Zealand 15

IT IS astonishing, truly astonishing, what a week or two of internecine turmoil can do for you. France produced one of their great displays, replete with the courage and strength that could never have been imagined, leaving the All Blacks shattered mentally and physically at the Parc Toulousain yesterday. The second Test in Paris next Saturday is an unimaginable prospect.

In their continuing contretemps with the French Rugby Federation, this was all the justification that Philippe Saint- Andre's players needed. It was as if the trauma of the resignation of their manager, Andre Herrero, had never happened, or, at any rate, it was as if their difficulties had drawn them together and made them better. That they outscored New Zealand by three tries to one tells the story of the match more accurately than the relatively tight scoreline.

France took sufficient advantage of the howling gale blowing in from the south-west to build a 17-3 half-time advantage. When the All Blacks had pulled back to within two points, the home team rounded off their jour de fete with a rapturously received captain's try.

The French were assisted, too, by the pallor of the All Blacks' performance. They missed the injured players Andrew Mehrtens and Josh Kronfeld, who had done so much to take them to the World Cup final, far more than anyone believed possible, as well as being tactically at complete odds with the bravura rugby which distinguished them in South Africa.

The upshot was that Jonah Lomu was a peripheral figure, which was also the result of the ferocity of the French defence. So little impact did he make, that long before the end the crowd were taunting him with an ensemble version of "Ou est Lomu?".

That said, the big wing was the victim not the cause. Zinzan Brooke was fixated with picking up the ball at the base of the scrum, possibly because of Stuart Forster's discomfort behind him at scrum-half, and the No 8's obsession meant that New Zealand scarcely ever played the early-ball game which freed Lomu so often in South Africa.

For France the issue was much simpler. The vent d'automne which was at their backs in the first half persuaded them that the best idea was to hoof the ball as far as possible downfield until they actually made it to the New Zealand 22. The tactic worked as well as they dared hope.

The All Blacks were also conveniently error-prone, turning the ball over with wholly uncharacteristic abandon. On one critical occasion, Christian Califano came away with the ball and fed Jean-Luc Sadourny, who was able to ignore the men on his outside as he cut past Jeff Wilson for a try from 45 yards.

Another New Zealand blunder presented Richard Dourthe with the second try, Simon Culhane's clearance being charged down in the in-goal area by the 20-year-old centre, who was on his knees when he then got his hand to the loose ball. With Thomas Castaignede converting both, as well as exchanging penalties with Culhane, France reached the interval with a lead they were well capable of defending.

And so it proved. Although Culhane steadily exacerbated French anxiety with another four penalties, his kicks counted for nothing when another of his clearance kicks was charged down, this time by Alain Penaud, and Fabien Pelous and Philippe Carbonneau sent Saint-Andre away from the despairing Lomu. Where, one might say, was Lomu?

France: Tries Sadourny, Dourthe, Saint-Andre; Conversions Castaignede 2; Penalty Castaignede. New Zealand: Penalties Culhane 5.

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). Replacement: D Berty (Toulouse) for Sadourny, 45.

New Zealand: J Wilson (Otago); E Rush, F Bunce, W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); S Culhane (Southland), S Forster (Otago); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke (Auckland), I Jones, B Larsen (North Harbour), Z Brooke, M Jones (Auckland). Replacement: G Osborne (North Harbour) for Wilson, 53.

Referee: P Marshall (Australia).

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