Rugby World Cup
All Blacks finish with a flourish
Graham Jenkins reports from the Telstra Stadium
November 20, 2003
New Zealand's Dan Carter fends off France's Fabien Pelous and Christian Labit
© Getty Images
The All Blacks returned to the running and incisive rugby that deserted them in last weekend's semi-final to triumph over France 40-13 at Telstra Stadium and secure third place in the World Cup.
The win will go some way to restoring some pride for New Zealand after crashing out to Australia in the semi-finals when they were favoured to lift the Williams Webb Ellis trophy.
For a new look France side lacking in game time this clash was always going to be a big ask but Bernard Laporte's second string did their country proud before being blown away by a second half try-blitz from New Zealand.
In the end New Zealand outscored their northern hemisphere rivals six tries to one with speedsters Doug Howlett and Mils Muliania assuming superiority at the top of the tournament's try scoring charts with seven a piece.
All Blacks' flyhalf Carlos Spencer returned to centre stage to lead the sort of cavalier approach that cost them dear just five days ago. But tonight the rugby gods smiled on Spencer and his team-mates against a French side lacking in ideas. A crowd of over 60,000 turned up to witness these two fallen giants in humid conditions that took their toll on both sets of players.
New Zealand's intent was clear from the off, the newly crowned International Team of the Year, were keen to move the ball early but they were very nearly stung by a repeat of the break-away try scored by Australia's Stirling Mortlock in their semi-final.
Pressing inside the 22 Spencer looked to shift the ball wide but French winger Pepito Elhorga intercepted but couldn't keep hold of the ball as he lost his footing with an open pitch in front of him.
The let off did nothing to dampen New Zealand's creativity with Mauger and McCaw combining well to surge deep into the French half once again moments later.
France did their best to take advantage of their opponents approach with the impressive scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili pouncing on a Joe Rokocoko turnover to chip into the space left by the winger. The bounce evaded everyone but a penalty following the ensuing lineout gave them a chance to get on the scoreboard. Unfortunately France's goal-kicking woes continued as Gerald Merceron was wide with his effort.
Spencer looked pumped up for this one throughout the opening period and he orchestrated the first try of the game. A sublime pass put Howlett through the line, MacDonald was there in support , the ball was soon recycled and Jack powered over for the try. MacDonald added the extras to make the full compliment.
France bounced back with a penalty from Yachvili on the quarter-hour but New Zealand continued to dominate with Spencer more often than not at the helm. Another chip had the French scurrying back and they managed to bundle Rokocoko into touch.
Spencer was the key again shortly after putting Muliaina away at pace and Howlett was there on his shoulder to accept a pass on the 22 and canter over for the second try. Daniel Carter, a replacement for an injured MacDonald, stepped up to add the conversion.
New Zealand continued with their enterprising approach and should have had another try before the game was half an hour old, but for a big tackle from Tony Marsh on a blindsided Carter that slowed the break down enough for the defence to re-group.
France continued to kick away too much ball which was an open invitation for the formidable back three of New Zealand, that they lapped up on every occasion.
But Yachvili added a drop goal before the end of the half to keep his side in touch.
France pressed immediately from the re-start and had the All Blacks on the back foot. They showed they too could throw the ball about and Elhorga stepped in from his wing to slice through a gap for his side's first try of the game. Yachvili slotted the conversion to bring them within a point but despite going close again moments later after a strong run from replacement Brian Liebenberg, that was as close as they got.
Three tries in a seven minute spell saw the All Blacks re-assert control of this game and quash any hopes the French had of rescuing this game.
Following an open passage of play New Zealand hacked on from inside their own half. Liebenberg got back to collect the ball but the support wasn't there as the All Blacks swarmed all over him. The inevitable turnover came and the ball was worked wide to Rokocoko who strolled over in the corner.
The try took the wind out of the sails of the French and they were caught in a slumber moments later although on the wrong end of a controversial All Blacks move.
A long clearance off a French player gave New Zealand the lineout on the 22. A quick thinking Howlett raced upfield to get his hands on the ball first and took the quick lineout before fielding it himself before it had appeared to cross the five metre minimum.
But the game went on and some quick hands saw Thorn presented with the opportunity to grab the try.
The third try came from Muliaina to join his team-mate Howlett at the top of the try scoring charts. The pressure told on the French defence again with the stretched cover unable to prevent Mauger putting in the fullback for the score. Carter obliged with all three conversions to put New Zealand well and truly in the driving seat.
The All Blacks should have had another shortly after the hour when another chip from Spencer was perfectly met by a speeding Howlett but a heavy covering tackle from David Bory knocked the ball out of the New Zealanders' hands on the line.
The pressure on the French defence always looked like it would reap further reward and it did. Sustained pressure in the 22 saw Marty Holah burrow his way over but this time Carter failed with the conversion.
To their credit France attempted to rally and with their big names now on the field but handling errors let them down as they peppered the New Zealand defence and the clock eventually beat them.
New Zealand's fans gave their players a warm reception on their lap of honour after completion of a World Cup campaign that promised so much but in the end came up short. But whether it will be enough to ensure a new contract for coach John Mitchell is yet to be seen.
New Zealand: 40 Tries: Jack, Howlett, Rokocoko, Thorn, Muliaina, Holah Con: MacDonald, Carter (4)
France: 13 Try: Elhorga Con: Yachvili Pen: Yachvili Drop Goal: Yachvili
France: Clement Pointrenuad (Nicolas Brusque 27min), Pepito Elhorga, Tony Marsh (Brian Leibenberg 40+min), Damien Traille, David Bory, Gerald Merceron (Frederic Michalak 65min), Dmitri Yachvili, Christian Labit, Patrick Tabacco (Olivier Magne 57min), Sebastien Chabal, Thibault Privat (Fabien Pelous 40+min), David Ausradou, Jeam Baptiste-Poux (Jean-Jacque Crenca 40+min), Yannick Bru (c), (Raphael Ibanez 52min) Sylvain Marconnet.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Doug Howlett, Leon MacDonald (Daniel Carter 18 min/Caleb Ralph 76min), Aaron Mauger (Daniel Carter 77min), Joe Rokocoko, Carlos Spencer, Steve Devine, Jerry Collins (Marty Holah 43min), Richie McCaw (Marty Holah 15min), Reuben Thorne (c), Ali Williams (Brad Thorn 48min), Chris Jack, Greg Sommerville, Keven Mealamu (Mark Hammett (71min), Dave Hewett (Carl Hoeft 69min).
Referee: C. White (Eng)