What a day! First England and then France down the mighty teams from down under on the same day in the RWC 2007 Quarter Finals. Historic? yes. Unimaginable? Totally.
I got off the plane at noon yesterday in Paris and my parting words to my French colleague, Boris, were “oh, we’ll just see by how much the French lose today!” And the same thought was true for England. So, France pulls off the great upset #2 of the day. That leaves Scotland and Fiji to make it 4/4!
The tactics were all there. The lucky white shorts (echoing England’s white). All Blacks in All Grey. And the kicking game. And some nifty substitutions. Not that I want to credit the French performance to the perky rose of England, but maybe there was something in the air that day, and more specifically before the French took the field.
But, there were two moments that stuck out for me in the psychology of the game. The first was before the whistle blew. Right after the haka was performed, the television caught a French player looking back into the eyes of a kiwi and he just lifted his head a tad, as if to say, “we’ll see.” There was a confidence in the eyes.
The second moment was after a poor punt by Dan Carter. Carter smiled as the kick barely made any yard pick up as the ball was miskicked off the outside of his foot. It was a smile as if to say, sorry lads, but don’t worry. We’re up by too much to worry about such a mistake. Considering Carter’s missed drop kick and conversion, there wasn’t much to smile about.
After a dominating first half, NZ just seemed to lay off the pedal. The tackle stats were quite revealing: 36 out of 47 for the All Blacks (76%). And a monumental 178/197 (90%) for Les Bleus. The territory occupation and domination was quite comprehensive for the Blacks (possession 71% and territory 63%). But just 2 penalties conceded throughout the match was the most impressive stat in a wholly amazing defensive exploit by the French.
Once again, the Blacks will go back thinking “what happened?” The poly-multi- non ending phase after phase balls didn’t faze the French. The five minute pack attack by the Blacks with McAlister sinbinned was brilliant tactically, but the pressure didn’t result in the necessary goods. It seems that the Blacks’ cockiness just plain caught up with them. And the French resolve, watched on by Sarkozy, was at its highest. A well deserved win against the number 1 seeds.
There were a number of similarities between the upsets that are worth mentioning. Both games had extremely high expectations of victory for the Southern Hemisphere teams. In both games, heavily the favoured Southern Hemisphere teams were leading (if not cruising) at the end of the first half (10-6 and 13-3 in chronological order). Both Australia and NZ missed key kicks (but England missed an equal number of penalties compared to the Wallabies) that could have hammered the lead home. Both games were won with a change of momentum in the second half, and both were won because of defense. Both games were won by two points.
Now, I must admit that next weekend will be very difficult for me; but I will also admit that my loyalties lie fully with the English who, according to the prior form, remain the underdogs.
All in all, a riveting day. Two upsets by two points. The ants go marching two by two, hurray, hurray!