Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

All Blacks v France: French legends see Gallic flair as path to Rugby World Cup glory

Philippe Sella says the French, if they are to beat the All Blacks tonight in the Rugby World Cup final, must have a little bit of 1994 about them.

That was the last time the All Blacks were beaten at Eden Park by France. Sella was at centre and it culminated in a famous try - 'the try from the end of the world' - by Jean-Luc Sadourny. It was a beautiful, free-spirited thing, ranging almost the length of the field after Stephen Bachop's punt was collected in the French 22. It showcased the speed and intuitive skill of the French. It makes compulsive Youtube viewing.

French rugby followers often speak about moments de verite (moments of truth). That is when they know everything counts toward the result; where they can't afford to fail.

Sadourny's try was one example. So is Serge Blanco's touchdown against Australia in the 1987 World Cup semifinal when he scored in the final moments to win the game.

The gifted Sella was on the field at centre for both those tries and never touched the ball - but played 10 tests against the All Blacks for three wins.

He says the French need to find such 1994 flair again to beat the All Blacks.

"We need to concern ourselves with getting the ball in hand. I think our discipline, lineout and scrum are strong but to win we need to find something spectacular by taking the initiative. We need to take control of what happens in our stomachs and in our heads. We need to play rather than watch the rugby.

"The All Blacks are strong. They won the pool game [against France] by 20 points, they played a huge semifinal against Australia, and mix hard, physical combatants like Brad Thorn, Owen Franks and Keven Mealamu with players of skill and flair like Cory Jane."

Sella speaks of a bigger picture that the All Blacks and their supporters need to be wary of. France lost to Tonga and New Zealand at this tournament but their form can be mercurial.

"Take the 1994 try - it was on the back of one of our best wins in Christchurch [22-8] the week before and gave us our first series win in New Zealand. But we had lost away to Canada [18-16] a month prior."

Franck Mesnel, who played at first five-eighths in the 29-9 loss to the All Blacks in the 1987 World Cup final, created the multi-million dollar "Eden Park" fashion empire in the wake of that final - and agrees the French need to find a touch of their famous je ne sais quoi to combat the All Blacks.

"My theory is if you are behind a wall but are not told it is impossible to get over it, then you can do it. 'Impossible' is only a small word ahead of this final. This philosophy has already worked in the quarter and semifinals for France, even if many doubt them. I'm still confident they can do it.

"The All Blacks are a good example to emulate from 1987. At half time they were only 9-0 up. Then they ran the ball - and the game - in the open during the second half and reaped the rewards. Hopefully we can get into that position [today]."

Like Sella, Mesnel advocates attacking, contrary to the theory finals rugby is won relying predominantly on defence.

"You can't stay on the starting blocks and wait. You've got to seize the initiative. It won't be won through defence. It does not mean you have to run the ball with French flair but they have to enjoy their rugby more than they have been."

All Blacks beware.

Tourists bring their own style

Philippe Sella Has been in New Zealand for the duration of the tournament. The 49-year-old, 111-cap centre says a favourite memory has been playing touch rugby and singing a few songs at the Ponsonby rugby club on Friday where he caught up with club stalwart, former All Black and current New Zealand Rugby Union president Bryan Williams. He also enjoyed travelling to the capital to spend time with the man he describes as the "ambassador of Wellington", Murray Mexted. At 15, Sella remembered watching avidly when Mexted spent a season at Agen in 1977.

Franck Mesnel was famous for his flair. He once took his Racing Club de France team [before they became Racing Metro 92] onto the field in pink bowties and had them drink champagne at halftime. Last year the 50-year-old, 56-cap inside back - a qualified architect and aviator - bought the Eden Park goalposts on Trade Me.co.nz for $15,050 to raise funds for Christchurch earthquake relief. He is getting Belgian sculptor Arne Quinze to work with one set and is breaking up the other for distribution to the 30 starters in the 1987 World Cup final.

- Herald on Sunday

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