France stun NZ to reach Cup semifinal

France upset the odds in dramatic style to come from behind and beat tournament favourites New Zealand 20-18 in the World Cup quarterfinal at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

For the All Blacks, 13-0 up as early as the 30th minute, defeat was arguably as devastating as their equally unexpected 43-31 loss to France in the 1999 World Cup semifinal at Twickenham.

France now face old rivals England, who earlier beat Australia 12-10, in next Saturday’s semifinal in Paris.

“Of course we’re disappointed, but that’s sport,” said All Blacks coach Graham Henry.

“But I’m proud of the players. We didn’t play as well as before. The French were strong in defence.
The best team won. That was the best French team we have faced for years.”

France coach Bernard Laporte was full of praise for his battling side.

“Bravo to all the players,” said Laporte.

“After losing the first match to Argentina, we suffered a lot of things but tonight [Saturday] the response was there. We beat a great team and we want to go further.”

New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw said he couldn’t explain the defeat.

“I’m lost for words. With France we always knew they could come back in the second half. We lost our composure. I thought we could get it back,” said the flanker.

France didn’t go ahead until 11 minutes from time thanks to a try from centre Yannick Jauzion, which owed much to replacement flyhalf Frederic Michalak.

Flanker Thierry Dusautoir’s try had earlier drawn France level, with novice flyhalf Lionel Beauxis kicking two penalties and a conversion.

Scrumhalf Jean-Baptiste Elissalde’s conversion of Jauzion’s try made it 20-18 heading into the final minutes.

In the last minute, New Zealand fullback Leon MacDonald missed a drop goal which would have won the game for the All Blacks.

New Zealand saw Luke McAlister and Rodney So’oialo both score tries, with flyhalf Dan Carter’s boot adding the remaining eight thanks to a conversion and two penalties.

France suffered a setback in the fifth minute when flanker Serge Betsen fell awkwardly after tackling New Zealand wing Joe Rokocoko and was left flat out on the turf.

Betsen, after several minutes of treatment, walked off the pitch with and was replaced by Imanol Harinordoquy.

Laporte had given a first Test start at fullback to Damien Traille and opted for Beauxis at flyhalf over Michalak, the clear intention to kick for territory and then use their line-out to regain the ball.

Carter’s 13th minute penalty put New Zealand 3-0 ahead.

Then McAlister again scythed his way through France’s midfield and found scrumhalf Byron Kelleher.

The ball was worked left with number eight Rodney So’oialo passing to Ali Williams, out on the touchline where wing Vincent Clerc did just enough to force the lock into touch.

However, France’s reprieve was short-lived. Flyhalf Carter released McAlister, who again burst through to find Jerry Collins whose return pass set up a 17th-minute try for McAlister.

Carter converted and the All Blacks were 10-0 ahead.

Beauxis then missed a 24th minute penalty before Carter, maintaining his perfect strike-rate, knocked over one himself from 48m to extend New Zealand’s lead.

Elissalde also failed with his first penalty attempt, from out on the right, before Beauxis made amends for his earlier miss on the stroke of half-time to leave New Zealand 13-3 ahead.

Beauxis scored the first points of the second half, with a penalty after a deliberate obstruction by McAlister on Jauzion saw the Kiwi sent to the sin-bin by English referee Wayne Barnes.

France drew level in the 54th minute with a well-worked try.

The charging Harinordoquy was held up just short of the line but France retained possession and Clerc’s well-timed pass released openside Dusautoir who went over on the right hand side.

Beauxis converted and the game was tied at 13-13.

France’s forwards then enjoyed a purple patch but New Zealand, having been initially taken aback, weathered the storm and saw So’oialo burrow his way over for a try confirmed by video referee Chris White.

But Carter’s missed conversion meant that, at 18-13 ahead, New Zealand still had plenty of work to do heading into the final quarter.

Laporte, with 13 minutes left, played his trump card by sending on the gifted, but erratic Michalak for Beauxis.

It was a move that paid dividends barely two minutes later. Traille broke clear before finding Michalak, taking the ball at pace, who in turn released Jauzion for a well-worked try.—AFP

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