Enfants de la Patrie stand tall against the Haka
The All Blacks retreated into their shells under the pressure of injury and of the nation, but they did not buckle
ALLONS ENFANTS de la Patrie (Arise, children of the Nation) and arise is what they did. What a brilliant statement from the French, holding hands like a well-heeled, orderly bunch of school children on a walking trip to church, as the world awaited their slaughter.
In a flash as All Black Piri Weepu was cranking up the Kapa O Pango, “All Blacks, let me become one with the land, This is our land that rumbles,” Thierry Dusautoir and his fellow children left the arrow head and faced the All Blacks as one, becoming men.
I was on the edge of my seat, nervous, tense and totally unsure of what was to happen next. Clearly France needed to starve the All Blacks of time and space but the pre-match gauntlet was laid down; ‘We’re ready!’ What was Aaron Cruden thinking as Dusautoir flattened him: ‘God defend New Zealand’?
What was Dusautoir thinking? The lyrics of his own anthem must have been swirling about his consciousness as he witnessed the final imagery played out by the All Blacks’ Haka; ‘Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras, Égorger nos fils et nos compagnes’ (they come into our arms, to slit the throats of our sons and our companions)
Immediately France set about pushing into the All Black faces, where Cruden at outhalf had to be tested. The first sign of All Black mastery was in that very opening breakdown. The French arrived in numbers but the All Blacks built the breakdown to withstand the onslaught. My instinct told me they would weather the storm through an airtight ruck and a pointed attack, either through the boot or big carries from, well pretty much any of them. I remember the third quarter in Brisbane way back in August when Australia had stolen ahead in the first half. The All Blacks could go back to basics, building the momentum at the coal face.
But then France started eating into the All Black lineout. One minute in and All Black hooker Keven Mealamu found French man Julien Bonnaire at the tail. Three minutes later the All Blacks won their first lineout but it was sloppy. Then France get their first lineout on nine minutes, where Imanol Harinordoquy was unopposed in the middle, crisp and accurate.
The All Blacks, using forced variety in their lineout, won the next three on 9, 10 and 11 minutes. That one on nine minutes came off the top for Ma’a Nonu to take it flat and put Morgan Parra out of the final. That Parra, at 80kgs, tackled him is a measure of the man. The relevance to the RWC outcome from these opening lineouts was huge.
Psychology in sport is an immense driver in strategy. We witnessed Ireland go for the touch kick off a penalty when behind to Wales. They ignored the kick at goal and failed to gain the seven points. Yesterday’s opening salvo of lineouts had France in the driving seat. So when it came to their defensive lineout five metres from home they contested in the air.
The All Blacks, sensing the superiority of the French, predicted two French pods would get into the air, leaving space somewhere. The All Black skill was creating the space in the middle for Tony Woodcock to race home. The game wasn’t 15 minutes old and France were down by five points.
Parra’s very early exit along with Cruden’s was to have another massive influence on strategy. At five points to nil and 35 minutes remaining who would have taken that 45th-minute penalty for the All Blacks if Cruden was still on the park? Weepu was falling apart and his kicking was getting worse. Would the very young Cruden have been given it by Richie McCaw or indeed would he have insisted on taking that kick?
We will never know but Stephen Donald, New Zealand’s fourth-choice outhalf, was on the pitch and stood tallest. What a kick!
Francois Trinh-Duc’s premature arrival also aided France’s attack. Firstly, he attempted what Wales had struggled with, a drop goal, on 35 minutes. A couple of minutes later he received the ball deep inside his half and ran where the All Blacks were weakest. The ball stayed in both hands and as he approached Jerome Kaino he slipped through his inside shoulder (unforgivable) for more yards. The attack rumbled on before petering out, with Weepu kicking to touch at half-time.
The French, with huge pressure in defence, managed to unearth an attack through Trinh-Duc; second half more to follow.
Weepu’s little sand wedge into Trinh-Duc’s hands set the New Zealand nation into total panic, a panic Weepu was not to recover from.
Again Trinh-Duc carried in both hands, stood tall and had the presence of mind to offload in traffic. The French, regardless of the coach, always appear to have a plan off broken field ball. That it was in Eden Park against the All Blacks in the RWC final made no difference. They knew what to do and do it they did; brilliant hands, brilliant angles, brilliant support, brilliant clear outs and brilliant decisions under immense pressure.
Touchdown Dusautoir; I’m roaring at the TV!
Now the score stood at 8-7 the role of the referee Craig Joubert became crucial. I ignored the very high tackle on Trinh-Duc in the 43 minute. The fairness of Donald’s penalty is worth a look; did France interfere with Nonu when tackled? If they did then Kaino certainly did later on. I was prepared to forgive some of his scrum calls but as the clock tick-tocked towards 80 he began to influence the course of the outcome, which began to annoy me. In March 2009 when Paddy Wallace found himself on the wrong side in the Millennium Stadium the game was over, the Grand Slam was over. Wayne Barnes blew for a penalty and Stephen Jones got his chance. The All Blacks pushed the boundary yesterday but Joubert never blew and France never got their chance.
The French were magnificent, Trinh-Duc added much needed outhalf play and their backrow hit the All Blacks like never before; on the ground, in the tackle and in the air. The All Blacks retreated into their shells under the pressure of injury and the nation, but did not buckle. For all the emotion associated with this amazing match and wonderful tournament , Weepu was spot on: ‘Ka t? te ihiihi, Ka t? te wanawana’ (Our dominance, Our supremacy will triumph).
Finally, last Saturday night in Nancy Blakes I bumped into Ed Quigley, a farmer just back from New Zealand. Three weeks touring had generated many lifelong experiences but one story of Rotorua caught my attention. Ireland had just beaten Russia and the thirsty Irish support headed into town. As the shutters pulled down for the night, they realised they were hungry and off to the Golden Arches they went. Ed discovered “30 deep” at the counter so he and his mates headed out to the drive-thru. But 70 other Paddies had already got there. Each one bent down as he walked past the speakers to give his order before alighting at the counter ahead for collection!