Sorry French pay historic price
June 10, 2007
The All Blacks delivered the guillotine on a sorry chapter in French rugby history with a record 61-10 mauling here last night, ending a series negligible in value to both teams.
An embarrassed France flew out of Wellington today surely embarrassed by one of the lamest showings in more than 100 years of test rugby, providing little more than cannon fodder for a New Zealand team still ironing out chinks in their game.
In 612 tests, no French team had conceded more than 60 points nor lost by more than 50 points but Bernard Laporte's player-ravaged team now carry that claim.
After romping in for nine tries in an improved performance on their comfortable 42-11 first test win, the All Blacks now only have a test against minnows Canada in Hamilton on Saturday before facing South Africa in Durban on June 24 (NZT) -- arguably their steepest challenge before the World Cup.
Laporte labelled the series "a bit of a joke" before leaving France because almost all of his top players were unavailable due to club duties. His assessment proved unerringly accurate.
New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith said presentations made to the new caps in the series at last night's after-match function summed up why the results were so lopsided. All Blacks halfback Brendon Leonard was joined on stage by 16 Frenchmen.
"That was what we were playing against and also a team that didn't have a lot of time together. So it was a new team, inexperienced, not much time together," Smith said.
"You can't expect that gulf to be bridged.
"They played with heart, they tried hard, had a fast (defensive) line speed but sometimes there's just a gulf in ability there and that's a fact.
"You can't draw any conclusions there."
Even if the All Blacks could take little from the encounter, it was at least an entertaining and bruising spectacle.
Joe Rokocoko scorched over twice for tries, joining hooker Anton Oliver and halfback Byron Kelleher in his 50th test as first-half tryscorers. Fullback Leon MacDonald, centre Isaia Toeava, flanker Jerry Collins, reserve hooker Keven Mealamu and first five-eighth Nick Evans bagged the second-half tries.
On a darker note, the All Blacks lost locks Ali Williams (broken jaw) and Keith Robinson (calf) to injuries that will probably sideline both through the Tri-Nations.
Three French players also went to hospital -- captain Pascal Pape (head), and midfielders Arnaud Mignardi (ribs) and Lionel Mazars (head) -- as the tourists played the last 10 minutes with 14 men, having exhausted their reserve bench.
A once-proud test rivalry has become distinctly predictable in the last three years, with the All Blacks have beaten France by more than 30 points in four of their last five tests.
While their attacking components started to function last night, it will be hard to gauge New Zealand's progress until Durban.
The possession-starved France missed 37 tackles and were opened up by 16 All Blacks linebreaks. As if gorged by opportunities, the New Zealand players squandered many more chances, making a whopping 17 handling errors.
"We defended well for 10-15 minutes," was about the only positive a humbled Laporte could uncover.
"The opposition was too big and too strong for us. There's a big difference between them and us at the moment."
Few All Blacks players let themselves down. A search for criticism could focus on the sloppy handling of Toeava and mixed goalkicking of Luke McAlister yet the young Blues midfielders produced numerous moments of brilliance to more than atone.
The scrum was an utter mismatch, a grizzled French front row with a combined age of 102 crumpling on their own ball from the outset, while it was up to visiting No 8 Sebastien Chabal to again provide the only physical elements capable of threatening New Zealand's breakdown mastery.
Even Chabal was crunched in the opening 20 minutes, emerging second best twice from ferocious collisions with All Blacks hard man Collins and eventually being forced off late holding his shoulder.
Collins denied targeting the talismanic Chabal to take the wind from the French sails.
"I was standing in the lane where the runners usually come. I put a couple of shots on some other people, not just him," Collins said.
"It's the same place where I usually stand, it's where the big runners come.
"He goes hard. A lot of respect to him and the way he plays. I'm sure he'll be in the 30 when they name their (World Cup) squad."
Not many of Chabal's teammates could make the same claim.