Top 10 Most Memorable All Blacks vs. France Games
France have always been something of a bogey team for the All Blacks. It does not seem to matter what each team's form is leading into their meetings; the French are always capable of stifling the New Zealanders.
The only problem for the All Blacks is that they do not know when it is coming, as France have a tendency to be very inconsistent. They are just as likely to be brilliant as they are to be awful.
This makes certain games between the two teams more memorable than others, with the very best of them going down as epics on the all-time scale.
With the two teams meeting again this weekend, let's look at ten of the best meetings between the two sides throughout their history.
10. 2013 Second Test: One of the Great Kicking Displays
We start with a relatively recent one, the second test in the series between the two sides from earlier this year. After an average display in the first test, this All Black team came out and executed a near-perfect kicking game.
Despite France's best efforts, the All Blacks did not allow them to threaten, constantly pinning them in their own half and ensuring they could not easily escape. Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith and Israel Dagg were exceptional in their efforts here, finding space behind and kicking so that the chasers could apply pressure.
The All Blacks scored three tries en route to a resounding 30-0 victory, the only time they have held the French scoreless.
9. 2009 Marseille: The Start of a Dream Run
The year 2009 was not great for the All Blacks. After a series of injuries, they were a depleted side for most of the season, which saw them succumb to losses to the Springboks three times and the French once.
Although the laws of the time clearly favoured a kick and chase game, the All Blacks continued to persist with using ball-in-hand tactics. For a long time this looked like it was a mistake, but finally, in their end of year match against France, we saw how well it worked when executed right.
Mils Muliaina was dangerous on the counter, while Sitiveni Sivivatu and Cory Jane were both lethal on the wings. Daniel Carter pulled the strings well, while the midfield of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith had one of their best performances together.
In the forward spots, Richie McCaw was outstanding at the breakdown, while Brad Thorn was physical and never stopped up front.
The French, to their credit, didn't die. They tried to play rugby, but just could not break the All Black line, eventually going down 39-12.
It was the style that they adopted so successfully in this game that would make the All Blacks the most dangerous team in the world over the next four years; the start of a period of dominance that extends to today.
8. 1994 Second Test: The Try from the End of the World
The year 1994 marked the first time France won a two-test series in New Zealand. But with only minutes remaining in the second test, France found themselves down by four points, meaning they had to score a try to avoid a tied series.
And that they did, creating a counter-attacking movement from the most impossible of situations to score what has been dubbed as "the try from the end of the world." The try is still regarded as one of the finest ever scored.
France would win the game 23-20.
7. 1987: The First World Cup Final
This was undoubtedly the most dominant performance by a team in a World Cup final, as the All Blacks cruised to a 29-9 victory to claim the first ever Rugby World Cup. They dominated territory and possession in the first half, but due to some strong French defence, only held a 9-3 lead at the break with Michael Jones scoring the sole try.
The second half saw the score blown out, as two quick tries up the right wing to John Kirwan and David Kirk saw New Zealand gain a healthy lead they would never relinquish. The reliable boot of Grant Fox allowed them to continue to accumulate points and they held a 29-3 lead late in the game, before France crossed for a consolation try.
6. 2011: The Monkey off the Back
The 2011 World Cup final could not have been more different then the 1987 one. This time around it was a fight to the bitter end, as the French went oh-so close to toppling an All Black team that was supposed to win in a canter.
For the majority of the first half, the All Blacks played the game at the right end of the field, applying huge amounts of pressure and having France under the pump on their own line for long periods. But the French defence was outstanding and held on for all it was worth, ensuring the All Blacks held just a five-point lead at the break despite all of their dominance.
The second half was a much closer affair, with the game essentially being played between the two ten-metre lines. It is well remembered that the All Blacks got next to no attacking chances in the final 40, but what is less remembered is that for all of France's possession, they rarely got themselves into positions where they really threatened.
In the end, the All Blacks were forced to defend and did so well, escaping with an 8-7 win. It was the first time the All Blacks had won the World Cup since 1987, meaning the monkey was finally off their back after having been weighed down by it for so long.
5. 1979 Second Test: The Bastille Day Test
This undoubtedly ranks as one of the great wins in French rugby. After being comfortably beaten by the All Blacks in the first test, France fought back against the odds to claim their first ever win against the All Blacks in New Zealand.
There was plenty of French flair on display here, which helped them score some outstanding tries, but it was the strong scrum in front of them that no doubt helped them achieve these. Their defence was strong too, in contrast to the All Black defence which fell off too many tackles and gave France too many opportunities.
After trailing, the All Blacks mounted a comeback late in the game, but it was to no avail as France walked away with a 24-19 win. Fittingly the win came on Bastille Day, leading it to become known as the Bastille Day Test.
4. 2007 World Cup: The Cup They Weren't Supposed to Lose
Never had a team been more heavily favoured to win a Rugby World Cup than the 2007 All Blacks. It almost seemed a foregone conclusion that the team simply had to turn up and they would walk away with the trophy, having been by far and away the best team in the world for the past three years.
No one told France that though, and they brought their A-game to cause a huge upset in the quarterfinals, claiming a 20-18 victory. It wasn't all plain sailing though, as they were forced to come back from a 13-0 deficit and relied on a number of things going their way to get the win.
It goes without saying that the game remains one of the most controversial ever played. The infamous forward pass from Frederic Michalak that led to the final try has never been forgotten, nor has the way referee Wayne Barnes somewhat swallowed his whistle in the second half.
But none of that changes the result. At the end of the day, the All Blacks had their chances to win late in the game and did not take them. They would exit the World Cup at their earliest stage ever, while France would go on to lose to England the next week in the semifinals.
3. 1961 Second Test: The Hurricane Test
This game is memorable more for the conditions it was played in than the actual game itself. With gusts of wind sweeping across Wellington at up to 140 kilometres per hour, it is no surprise that this was labelled as the "Hurricane" test.
The All Blacks played superbly into the gale in the first half, defending their line well to ensure both teams remained scoreless at halftime. Despite this, they were unable to cash in on this dominance in the second half and were only able to sneak home after a try late in the game put them in front 5-3.
2. 1986 Second Test: The Battle of Nantes
This is regarded to be one of the toughest games ever played and epitomises everything about the rivalry between these two great sides. Both teams boasted their share of hardmen, all of whom were prominent in throwing themselves at each other in what resembled more a war than a rugby match.
In the end, France were too good, walking away 16-3 winners, but that isn't what the game is best remembered for. No, that honour goes to All Black Wayne "Buck" Shelford, who continued to play after having his scrotum ripped open and stitched back up by the physiotherapist.
For years after this loss the cry "remember Nantes" rang around New Zealand whenever the All Blacks were in hardship, and was especially prominent at the World Cup a year later.
1. 1999: 'The Biggest Upset in the Whole of Rugby World Cup History'
Was there ever any question as to what the most memorable game on this list would be? The 1999 World Cup semifinal had it all and is regarded as one of the greatest games ever played.
Like pretty much every other World Cup, the All Blacks were favourites and were expected to run all over what had been a very average French team. This was a powerful All Black team, boasting names like Jonah Lomu, Jeff Wilson, Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga, Josh Kronfeld, Robin Brooke and Andrew Mehrtens. Just as in 2007, it was more or less a foregone conclusion that they would win.
And for 50 minutes it looked like they would do just that. With a rampant Jonah Lomu looking unstoppable after scoring two tries, the men in black held a 24-10 lead.
But this all came crashing down, as France played 30 minutes of the most unbelievable rugby you will ever see. Two quick drop goals saw the lead cut to eight, before three opportunistic tries saw them gain a lead they would never relinquish.
New Zealand hit back late with a consolation try, but the damage was done. France progressed to the final with a 43-31 victory, which has to rate as quite possibly the finest in their history.
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