All Blacks win salvages little pride

New Zealand 40 France 13

New Zealand 40 France 13

Doug Howlett and Mils Muliaina scored their seventh touchdowns of the tournament to become the World Cup’s joint-leading try scorers but they were just about the only notes of worth from the match nobody wanted to play.

We could fool ourselves that New Zealand salvaged some pride by claiming third place in the World Cup with this triumph.

But after missing out on the World Cup final, the last thing the pre-tournament favourites wanted was to return to the scene of their semi-final grief against Australia.

That is exactly the way it looked as both sides went through the motions before a crowd of 62,712, many of whom were streaming home 10 minutes before the final whistle.

Howlett and Muliaina were joined on the scoresheet by second-row Chris Jack, young wing Joe Rokocoko, Brad Thorn and Marty Holah with Pepito Elhorga grabbing France’s consolation touchdown.

But this victory, full of the handling errors which categorised their semi-final defeat, will not save New Zealand or their coach John Mitchell from the media and public slaying they are bound to receive when they return home tomorrow.

French coach Bernard Laporte made 13 changes to the side which lost to England on Sunday, while New Zealand made just one switch in their starting line-up - scrum-half Steve Devine coming in for the injured Justin Marshall.

For France, in dry, humid conditions completely different from their match against England, it was a chance to throw off their melancholy, pick a young side and announce a new chapter in French rugby leading to the 2007 World Cup they will host.

The match, however, was always going to suffer from a lack of intensity after the two sides’ disappointment at the weekend and there was a definite Barbarians feel to the action.

The first try came from second-row Jack when he exploited a fluid All Blacks movement to hand off David Bory and charge over.

And when Howlett raced in for his 20th-minute try it seemed the crowd might be treated to a New Zealand try-fest – the All Blacks going in at half-time with a 14-6 lead after Dmitri Yachvili had replied with a penalty and a drop goal for France.

It is tough to raise your game when the stakes are so low, however, and it was the French who came out the brighter after the interval, immediately breaking the New Zealand defence with wing Elhorga supplying the touchdown and Yachvili the conversion.

Cue a surge of All Black pride – magical work from Carlos Spencer opening up the space for Rokocoko to sweep in for a touchdown out wide and then equal invention from Devine hassling the French defence to send in replacement Thorn.

Suddenly the All Blacks were clear and cruising and if the odd scuffle broke out as full-back Muliaina crossed for their fifth try then there was no denying the class of this New Zealand side when they get into the groove.

Holah added the sixth but still they looked like men haunted by their underachievement.

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox