While England's deadliest marksman Jonny Wilkinson was laid up just as the World Cup was due to kick-off, his New Zealand counterpart, Dan Carter, was messing about by the water with Zinedine Zidane. "These All Blacks have a pretty relaxed attitude to be doing this two days before their first match," said Zidane, who knows a thing or two about taking on Italy – New Zealand's first opponents here tomorrow – in a World Cup.
The willingness of Carter to boot a load of rugby balls at a set of plastic posts set up in the harbour next to the All Blacks' hotel, and give Zidane some rugby coaching along the way, probably had as much to do with the pulling powers of their shared sponsors, adidas, as any need to brush up on technique.
"Impossible is nothing" is the slogan of a multi-million pound campaign – and it was no problem getting the two star No 10s from different sports out in the midday sun just 48 hours before Carter kicks off the favourites' tournament.
The impact of the event was affected somewhat by the boycott by several news and picture agencies who were unhappy with media restrictions imposed by the Internatioanl Rugby Board.
Zidane, a son of Marseilles to where his parents emigrated from Algeria, brought a rude red-card end to his own World Cup career with a violent headbutt on Italy's Marco Materazzi in last year's final. "Zizou" said he was impressed with the physical stature of the All Blacks though this being a kicking masterclass for kids who had won a competition, the bigger members of the New Zealand squad were left cheering the kicks from a poolside balcony.
Zidane's first swing of the boot was not quite the smooth slash of a Euro 2004 free-kick against England or that screaming Champions League final volley for Real Madrid. It scudded into the water like a skipping stone. Carter and the All Blacks' kicking coach, Mick Byrne, ran the mighty midfielder through the finer points of torpedo and spiral kicks. With his next attempt Zidane brained a photographer. With the ball, you understand. "He was a natural," said Carter, as he recalled unprompted Zidane's finer contribution to "Coupe du Monde" history: two goals in France's 1998 final win over Brazil.
The All Blacks tend to play ball with most of what sponsors want. Even so scrum-half Byron Kelleher admitted earlier in the week that the traditional "Ka Mate" haka had been dropped in favour of another version "because the players felt it had lost a lot of its meaning and was used more for marketing".
They have a new fan in Zidane, who will be at the Stade Vélodrome on Saturday to cheer his "mates" on against the full-strength Italians. Coincidentally it is Italy v France in football the same day. Probed about this apparent switch of allegiance Zidane said. "Bernard Laporte [France's rugby coach] will understand I am still France's No 1 fan in both sports," he said with a winning smile.Reuse content