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FRANCE were celebrating their promotion to major power in world rugby after a historic victory over the All Blacks yesterday.
A stunning breakaway try by the full-back Jean-Luc Sadourny in the final seconds earned the French a 23-20 match victory and a 2-0 series win. It made them only the fourth side to win a series on New Zealand soil.
'It's difficult to say which of the two victories is the greatest, perhaps this one because it was so hard,' Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, said. 'But you get so few of them against New Zealand that I just can't take it in.
'Next year, in the World Cup, everyone is going to say 'Watch out for France'. It was important to establish ourself on the world stage.'
But Berbizier admitted he had suffered before the match-winning try, when they trailed 20-16. 'I had my doubts when things started to look dicey,' he said. 'We let two or three balls slip and the All Blacks dominated us in the line-outs. But every time we moved the ball around or used the wings, they were in trouble.
'The trick, from a tactical point of view, is to take into account the New Zealand rugby culture of dominating the midfield.'
Bernard Lapasset, the president of the French Rugby Federation, said the win was even more satisfying than the previous weekend's 22-8 victory in Christchurch.
'Last Sunday, it was like winning a World Cup semi-
final,' he said. 'This feels like winning the final.'
Guy Laporte, the tournament director, added: 'I feared for the worst, because although we were capable of taking the match, we made too many mistakes when handling and passing the ball. The two wins in the series felt different. The first one, at Christchurch, was the result of technical mastery. This was an emotional victory because the deliverance only came right at the very end.'
And he warned the rugby world: 'We've got 20 players now who are ready for the World Cup; a team which is on the road to maturity.'
Philippe Saint-Andre, the French captain, was virtually poetic about the win, along with the winning try which started on his own 22, and even the All Blacks skipper, Sean Fitzpatrick, paid tribute to the tourists.
'The French team have made history with this symbolic try, a counter-attack which started at the end of the world,' Saint-Andre said. 'Everyone played for the team and no one put a foot wrong. It's the reward for five weeks' work. We've proved that French rugby can now be exported. All we need now is to play well on the European continent, and particularly next year at Twickenham.'
Fitzpatrick said: 'It's the greatest match ever played at Auckland. The French proved that a match lasts 80 minutes. And yet, five minutes from the end, I told my players that it was in the bag. I should have known that with them (the French), anything is possible. However, I think we can be confident about the Test against the Springboks.'
New Zealand: Try Fitzpatrick; Penalties Cooper 5. France: Tries Ntamack, Sadourny. Conversions Lacroix, Deylaud. Penalties Lacroix 2, Deylaud.
NEW ZEALAND: J Timu; J Kirwan, F Bunce, M Cooper, J Lomu; S Bachop, S Forster; O Brown, S Fitzpatrick (capt), R Loe, B Larsen, M Cooksley, I Jones, M Brewer, Z Brooke (A Pene, 74).
FRANCE: J-L Sadourny; E Ntamack, P Sella, T Lacroix (Y Delaigue, 48), P Saint-Andre; C Deylaud, G Accoceberry; C Califano, J-M Gonzalez, L Benezech, O Roumat, O Merle, L Cabannes, A Benazzi, P Benetton (X Blond, 72; Brouzet, 79).
Referee: D Bevan (Wales).Reuse content