French rugby great Jo Maso still feels strangely about his country's ability to blindside the All Blacks at World Cup tournaments.

Sir Colin Meads once called the silky back the most brilliant player he'd come across in his illustrious career. He said the first five-eighths, who was quick and had great footwork, cut the All Blacks to pieces in 1968 when they toured here.

Speaking to the Herald yesterday Maso, 67, said he had a deep affection for New Zealand. He's visited in the intervening years on tours and as a popular dinner speaker and he says he loves coming back.

That first tour for the dual league/union international was special. Although the French didn't win any of the three tests, Maso made cherished friendships. He has kept in touch with Sir Colin, Sir Brian Lochore, Bryan Williams, Ian Kirkpatrick and others.


Only with former Welsh internationals does he have similar close relations.

"We drank beer together, we ate together, we partied together. We were invited to people's homes for lunch, dinner.

"The French, oh, oh, we were exotic," he laughed. Slight and curly-haired, the French rugby institution is a grandfatherly kind of figure, the type who has a nice word for everyone.

Yesterday, while his team trained, he was on hand to greet tourists who turned up for pictures at the team's hotel.

He's good company, turning in imitations of Sir Colin's rumble of a voice and explaining his joy at seeing haka performed by young boys for his team at high schools.

Maso's not one to rub salt in the wound for New Zealand's drubbings in 1999 and 2007 at the hands of Les Bleus. He's too much of a gentleman for that. It's because he genuinely loves the All Blacks, he said.

"They are the reference for world rugby. The image of the All Blacks is a beautiful image for all.

"Sometimes I have regrets for beating the All Blacks.


"I went into their dressing room [in 1999] to shake hands with the manager and I never saw such a sad or disappointed room in my entire life. Terrible, terrible. We're very proud of beating them but at the same time we're sad. I want to cheer them up and be happy at the same time. It's a very strange feeling."

But while he might be a gracious winner he's not one to take claims this week from rugby pundits that France was putting up a B team to face New Zealand on Saturday lying down.

"It's not true. [We could ask] why is [Mils] Muliaina not playing, why is Ali Williams and Sonny Bill [Williams] not playing? To live inside the team is to understand why the selectors are picking these players."