New Zealand 14 France 10
Now that’s what I call an old style All Black performance amongst the mud, the blood and the beer. What a terrific, intense and wholehearted game with the ABs muscling up against Le Frogs in the abysmal Wellington weather.
I remember reading about former All Black fullback Allan Hewson suffering from hypothermia in a game in Wellington once. It looked a bit like that tonight, except Les Bleus fullback Maxime Metard had plenty of work to do and wouldn’t have been standing in one place for long enough.
If you were watching the live coverage you would have seen the camera shot from the corner of the Cake Tin ceiling – the rain was coming in at right angles. This is apparently not unusual – gee, it must be a bastard of a place to live?
The halftime statistics told the story of this match. The All Blacks had 54% of possession, 60% of territory, dominated the breakdown 44 – 25 and won the turnover battle 4-0. That probably had something to do with a better balance to their back row with Tanerau Latimer (a real No. 7) and Jerome Kaino being particularly effective.
I’d say it also had a great deal to do with the pressure placed on these guys from (1) Graham ‘Pod’ Henry (he could have been channelling Robbie Deans ‘we’ve got to go forward as a unique playing group’ – oh, that might have put them to sleep), and (2) everybody else that lives in Aoteoroa. Talkback radio would have gone apoplectic after their loss last Saturday – it would have been a ‘hangi stopper’! The ABs were more composed than last week and adapted to the conditions a bit better. There was a lot of kicking by both sides and plentyof dropped catches, as you would expect in this climate.
The game began as a bit of a kickfest as the teams were feeling each other out but quickly developed into an exciting arm wrestle (yes, arm wrestling rugby can be exciting for the aficionado i.e. G&GR reader). An early French scrum looked ominous as the AB pack disintegrated and split. However, like taking Paris Hilton out on a date, this proved a bit of a oncer. Although continually under pressure on their own feed, the AB scrum gradually improved but still has a long way to go. On the opposition feed, The Myth and Tialata decided to negate the French push by screwing (yes, again like Paris Hilton) the scrum which resulted in turnover ball from Picamoles at the back. Kearnsey would love all this stuff!
After a couple of missed Donald penalties in the first stanza, some good phase ball and exciting play resulted in a Ma’a Nonu try in the 26 min. AB’s 5 – Le Frogs 0 (unconverted). A short time later another bout of adventurous play led to Cory Jane crossing in the corner with a number of Frenchies hanging on for grim death. The Television Official, Mr George Ayoub, rightly determined a try had not been scored – it looked like a French arm was probably between the ball and the (very damp) turf. Donald kicked another penalty just before halftime to lead 8-0. The All Blacks had completely turned it round from last week. Their lineout was on song and more importantly, the aggression at breakdown time had returned.
Early in ze second half, the best individual try of the season was scored by Cedric Heymans on the ze left bank. He was about 60 metres out when he received the ball. Unlike in the mungo game, and I zink you know Heymans don’t you Del, the touchline is your friend. Cedric burst past Muliaina using his pace along that touchline and stepped and glided another three players to score an outstanding mince pie. Dupuy converted which reduced the margin to one. It was at this juncture that the ABs really put the pressure on. There were a number of French turnovers at ruck time which resulted in near tries to the All Blacks. Only ferocious defence, and a couple of their own fortuitous turnovers saved their bacon.
The rest of the match encompassed more arm wrestling, with both sides attacking the line. Donald kicked another penalty, as did McAlister when he came on. Yachvili the same for France leaving the score at 14-10. The back end of the match was dominated to some extent by the All Blacks, with pressure forcing a fair number of French mistakes. Both sides had defended stoutly and performed credibly in the circumstances.
The NZ lineout, which can be dodgy at the best of times, was rock solid. The scrum….well, the less said the better. Can’t wait for The Myth v Le Fuse. Standouts for New Zealand were Mealamu, Thorn, Nonu and Donald. Mealamu in particular was outstanding in every facet of play. The loosies looked the goods and there is life without Sir Ritchie, for the time being anyway.
For France Heymans, Metard, Traille, Chabal and Mas all played tres bon. Fair shake of the sauce bottle, the Wallabies will have to be on the top of their game to beat this crowd.
The All Blacks have their mojo and mana back.
NEW ZEALAND 14(Nonu try, Donald 2 pens, McAlister pen) FRANCE 10(Heymans try, Dupuy con, Yachvili pen).