Rugby: Haka confrontation sparked French into action

By John Mehaffey

CARDIFF - A first hint that all might not go according to the accepted script for the All Blacks came during the buildup to Sunday's World Cup quarter-final against France.

By losing the toss for the choice of uniform New Zealand played in a silver strip, passably stylish but undoubtedly lacking the raw menace of the traditional black uniform.

The second came during the haka, the pre-match war dance, when the French stood on the halfway line within centimetres of the gesticulating and grimacing New Zealanders.

Approximately 90 minutes later hosts France were celebrating an extraordinary 20-18 victory over the All Blacks and looking forward to a semi-final in Paris against defending champions England.

"We talked about it (the haka) three days ago," France captain Raphael Ibanez told a news conference. "It was not a provocation but we wanted to show them that we are proud.

"We feel a great respect for the New Zealanders but today the courage and pride of this team made the difference."

Courage and pride were primary factors. So too was the magnificent French defence.

New Zealand had 72 per cent of the possession compared to France's 28 per cent. New Zealand also had a territorial advantage of 62 per cent to 38 per cent.

They stole five French lineouts and one French scrum. But most significantly the French completed 90.4 per cent of their tackles, compared to the All Blacks' 76.6 per cent.

"Our defence was absolutely perfect," Ibanez said. "At halftime we realised that we were still in contact. Bernard (coach Laporte) told us that we were going to play the most important 40 minutes of our careers."

Laporte added: "We didn't want to die. We beat the best team in the world."

After the teams had disappeared from the Millennium Stadium, a recording of Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien" echoed around the empty seats.

It was a sentiment shared by France flanker Serge Betsen, initially disconsolate after leaving the field when he was injured in the fifth minute.

"I can tell you I feel much better, particularly after the result," he said.

- REUTERS

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