Rampant All Blacks reward Mains with fitting finale

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The Independent Online
OWEN SLOT

reports from Parc des Princes

France 12 New Zealand 37

When the game was over, and with it Laurie Mains' career as the New Zealand coach, he was hoisted on to the shoulders of Robin and Zinzan Brooke and chaired off the field in triumph. The All Blacks, not given to displays of celebratory emotion, had already been back to salute the crowd, and when Mains was carried off the Parc des Princes pitch, his face lit and broke into an unusual shape: a broad, uninhibited smile. "I retire," he said, "a very happy man."

This last stop of his often troubled journey at the helm was one of the best. This was a magnificent spectacle in which, in Mains' view, the All Blacks were back at their peak. "We were at a level that we attained during the World Cup," he said. "Maybe we didn't quite reach the level we did for 70 minutes against England, but we were extremely close."

The French started brilliantly and looked initially as if they could live at that level too. In the end, though, they could only match the All Blacks in the ferocity in which the match was played, and this they may have regretted afterwards.

It was fitting though that the All Blacks' revenge should have been a victory for the coach as much as anyone. The French knew not what to expect, because there was more variety to the All Blacks' game than was was shown at any time during the World Cup - high balls and rolling mauls were back on the agenda - and there was a complete rethink at half-back which had been the problem in Toulouse.

Out went Stu Forster, in came Justin Marshall for an exceptional debut at scrum-half and though Simon Culhane remained at stand-off there was no longer an inability to link up with the brilliant backs outside because Marshall had clearly been instructed simply to fling out long passes straight past Culhane and to the riches beyond him.

The backs duly reaped the dividends and ran in three of the four New Zealand tries, each of them coming from bursts into the line, by Eric Rush, Glen Osborne and Jonah Lomu. The best of the All Blacks back play, though, only took place in the second half when the French realised that they could not get away with their persistent offside and gave the opposition a little space in which to move.

All of which made sense of Mains' parting shot to the game. "If we look to the future of rugby," he said, "a plea that I would make to all referees is to enforce absolutely the offside law. Otherwise our game cannot develop and be the entertainment it is capable of."

France: Tries Saint-Andre 2; Conversion Castaignede. New Zealand: Tries Rush, Osborne, I Jones, Lomu; Penalties Culhane 5; Conversions Culhane.

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), M Des Rougemont (Toulon) C Califano (Toulouse), P Benetton (Agen), O Merle (Montferrand), F Pelous (Dax), A Carminati (Brive), A Benazzi (Agen). Replacements: S. Graou (Colomiers) for Benezech, 40; M Lievremont (Perpignan) for Carminati, 71.

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

Referee: P Marshall (Australia).

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