All Black humiliation a stain on France’s rugby heritage

World Cup quarter-final loss typifies decline with inspiration long gone from French game

The All Blacks may have produced the best performance of the World Cup so far but this was not enjoyable to watch. This was a humiliation for France, for their flag, for their national anthem, for their rich rugby heritage. Given the context, this was les bleus' worst day ever.

Of course, none of this was remotely unpredictable, except perhaps the sheer embarrassing scale of the defeat. France have reached three finals and three more semi-finals, and have often illuminated the event with their performances. Here they just left with their tails between their legs.

It’s funny how the two biggest flops of the tournament have come from the two richest, most high-profile, self-promoting leagues in the world. Admittedly, these may be for differing reasons, but a common theme is a state of delusional thinking.

Cut to shreds

Like Marc Lièvremont before him, Philippe Saint-André had vowed that if he was given a couple of months to prepare a squad, he would deliver. In the end, all he did was deliver a physically strong, fit squad. Here, the spirit was willing but their attacking game was as limited as ever, and even their defence was cut to shreds out wide by the brilliance of

Dan Carter

, Ma’a Nonu,

Ben Smith

and the rampaging hat-trick man

Julien Savea

, with

Kieran Read

and

Dan Coles

et al blending in seamlessly, before

Sonny Bill

Williams was introduced for some light relief.

By the time Tawera Kerr-Barlow came on for the Aaron Smith, the best scrumhalf in the world over the last four years since making his debut against Ireland, France had given up the ghost to such an extent that the sub scrumhalf ran in two tries untouched like something out of a one-sided under-10s game.

“I assume a lot of the responsibility. I have no problem doing that,” said Saint-André. “I’ve taken a lot of hits over four years. From the moment I accepted the proposition, there have been some strong moments with the players and the staff. From there the players will lift themselves up and continue to fight for the French team.”

The All Blacks know they will face an altogether more familiar and sterner test against South Africa next Saturday. "We trusted what we wanted to do and tonight was a reflection of where we're at," said Steve Hansen.

“We had some players who really stood up and played particularly well. All we’ve done is earned the right to go to training on Monday. We can’t get too excited. South Africa are going to be our opponents. We’ve played them a lot of times. They are great rivals and we’re good mates with them. It’s going to be a heck of a contest.”

Like four years ago, France were hopelessly coached. Unlike four years ago, they did not have the strong-willed collection of leaders and players to turn thing around.

Amongst other side effects, the emphasis on bringing in expensively imported players very often past their best and even past their Test careers, had stunted the growth of native French talent. Accordingly, they have turned more and more to overseas players by dint of the residency rule.

Crash-bang-wallop

Coupled with a crash-bang-wallop Top 14, they have ceased to be distinctively French. They no longer have inspiration to fall back on. To those who have seen their under-20s side in recent year, that is not surprising. This World Cup is part of a deep-rooted decline.

Maybe it will make the French sit up and take corrective measures. Most likely it won’t.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times