RWC #4: France upset the odds and the All Blacks in 1999 epic

Les Bleus score 33 unanswered points to surge from behind at Twickenham

France produced arguably the greatest World Cup comeback when they beat the All Blacks at Twickenham 1999. Photograph: Getty

France produced arguably the greatest World Cup comeback when they beat the All Blacks at Twickenham 1999. Photograph: Getty

 

In 1987 France, weary from their thrilling semi-final win over Australia, were mere participants in the World Cup final, as New Zealand were coronated as the first ever champions of the world.

It would be 12 years before the two sides would meet again on the biggest stage but ahead of the 1999 semi-final nobody could really see anything other in the pipeline than another comfortable New Zealand win.

Under Rafael Ibanez France had recently had the ignominy of being handed the wooden spoon following a bottom place finish in the five nations while the All Blacks, with the likes of Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu in the backline, were producing spells of majestic rugby.

And despite Christophe Lamaison’s early try two scores for Lomu, both ridiculous bulldozing runs from deep, coupled with the metronomic kicking of Andrew Mehrtens helped the All Blacks into a 24-10 lead. Everything was going to script.

But in the second half one of the most remarkable turnarounds ever seen on a rugby pitch began to take shape. In a scintillating, devastating 13 minute spell the fantastic French scored 13 points.

Lamaison nailed two drop-goals and two penalties to start the Gallic revival, before a Fabien Galthie box kick bounced kindly for Christophe Dominici who scampered over in the left corner.

Then, the French pack rumbled forward, held up five metres short. The ball was moved left to the exceptional Lamaison who dinked the ball in behind, with Richard Dourthe diving and stretching with every sinew to touch down.

Everything was with France. New Zealand moved the ball on the opposition 22 and it went loose.

Lamaison - who else - hacked it forward.

Oliver Magne was the man through and he, more Zinedine Zidane than wing forward, hacked it on again. Just as it looked like he was going to be caught Phillippe Bernat-Salles appeared in his rearview mirror, burning past his team mate and sliding over the line just as Jeff Wilson slid in to cover.

France had scored 33 points without response, the All Blacks had been blitzed, a Wilson try in the 80th minute a mere consolation.

One of the game’s finest comebacks had been staged at Twickenham. Allez les Bleus.

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