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Bright campaigns meet a dull end
John Mehaffey in Sydney | November 20, 2003 20:29 IST
Last Updated: November 21, 2003 05:03 IST
New Zealand and France completed rugby World Cup campaigns so bright with promise less than a week ago with a third place playoff on Thursday that neither side wanted, nor appeared to enjoy.
Before last weekend, New Zealand were clear favourites to beat defending champions Australia while France were given at least an even chance against England. Both teams had played the most exciting rugby of the early rounds and seemed on course for a repeat of their 1987 final clash.
But on a hot, sultry night, New Zealand were outplayed 22-10 by the Wallabies. On the following night, this time in torrential rain and driving wind, England were equally dominant, winning 24-7.
The All Blacks, calculating that third place was better than fourth, had chosen a full-strength side. France, ostensibly looking to the future, fielded their second-string side and also gave all seven replacements a run.
The speedy New Zealand back three of Malili 'Mils' Muliaina, Doug Howlett and Joe Rokocoko, denied any room by the Wallabies, scored a try apiece. Rokocoko's was his 17th in his first year of international rugby, equalling the world record set by Japanese Daisuke Ohata last year.
Forwards Chris Jack, Brad Thorn and Marty Holah also scored, but there was no real pattern to the All Blacks' play or the game as a whole. The last five minutes, in particular, were eminently forgettable with a series of elementary errors.
Wing Pepito Elhorga sliced through the defence at speed to score the only French try and scrumhalf Dmitri Yachvili kicked a conversion, a drop goal, and a penalty.
He added that he thought New Zealand had lacked maturity against Australia last week, but also said he believed he had assembled an outstanding group of players who could only get better.
"But sometimes as a team we have to go through experiences like that, sadly we had to go through that experience. But that experience will hold them in great stead in the future," he said.
"There is many a team who have come back from a situation like that."
Captain Reuben Thorne said it had been good to see his players throwing the ball around. "It has been a tough campaign and we didn't get what we wanted and we were pretty heartbroken about it," he said.
If it was difficult to see what New Zealand got out of the match apart from third place, it was impossible to see how the match benefited France in any respect.
"You have to admit the supremacy of the All Blacks," said coach Bernard Laporte. "But we have had a very good World Cup."
Manager Jo Maso said he believed there was still a place for a playoff. "It's better to get on the podium," he said. "But the organisers should give us more than four days to prepare."