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'I think the All Blacks had taken us for clowns': Five France players who haunted New Zealand

By Adam Julian
New Zealand's flanker and captain Richie McCaw (R) chats with France's flanker and captain Thierry Dusautoir at the end of the rugby union test match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis near Paris on November 9, 2013. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

France has been a nemesis for the All Blacks in the World Cup achieving famous victories in the 1999 semi-final and the 2007 quarter-final, while the two sides featured in two World Cup finals in 1987 and 2011.


Fierce and flamboyant talents have helped France foil the All Blacks 11 times in total since 1954.

Here are the five greatest chief destroyers of New Zealand throughout France’s history.

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Jean Prat – Putting France on the Map

Flanker Jean Prat was one of the most influential figures in French rugby history.

He played 51 Tests and led France to their first Grand Slam in 1955. Six times he was a winner of the Top 14 with FC Lourdes and he’s a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

His most noteworthy victory was achieved on February 27, 1954, when France beat the All Blacks for the first time at Stade Olympique de Colombes, 3-0.

Expectations of a French victory in Paris were so low that the stadium was far from capacity.

New Zealand spent almost three-quarters of the match inside the French 22, winning 32/42 scrums and double the number of French lineouts, but they were foiled by the tenacious French defense and their own lack of creativity. All of the All Blacks five tries in five international matches in 1953/54 were scored by forwards.


The winning moment happened in the second half when French flanker Robert Baulon dashed 30m down the touchline to within five meters of the New Zealand line and found Prat.

New Zealand journalist Sir Terry McLean reported, “Though there seemed to be three or four hands holding and clasping Prat, he made a vigorous dive to score.”

The All Blacks lost to Wales on the same tour but the French loss was considered a major shock. It was the last Test for many All Blacks including champion fullback Bob Scott.

France has beaten the All Blacks ten times since, and Wales is still waiting for their next victory over the All Blacks.


Jean Pierre Rives – Bastille Day Legend

Nicknamed Casque d’Or – Golden Helmet – Rives played 59 Tests for France between 1975 and 1984 and was an inspirational captain in 34 Tests from 1978. He formed a legendary back row with Jean-Claude Skrela and Jean-Pierre Bastiat.

Rivers first featured in a win against the All Blacks 18-13 in Toulouse in 1977. By 1979 he was captain of France on a New Zealand tour.

The first Test against the All Blacks in Christchurch ended in a heavy 23-9 defeat. Further misery was predicated for the second Test when France was turned over 12-11 by Southland.

However, France found inspiration on Bastille Day at Eden Park. Tires to halfback Jerome Gallion, first five Alain Caussade, centre Didier Cordonious, and wing Jean-Luc Averous had France ahead 24-10. The All Blacks rallied but were beaten 24-19 which saw French Commentator Roger Couderc yell, “When we saw this we can die.”

Rives was voted French Rugby Player of the Year three times and Rugby World paid tribute by saying.

“His style was the very essence of what was seen as the typically French mode: gloriously free-spirited, unpredictable, and entertaining. He only wanted to drive a maul to one place – right out of the game. As he told the Irish Independent in an interview last year: “The ball is the star. People want to see the ball. Kids want to see it being passed.”

Jean-Luc Sadourny – ‘Try from the End of the World.’

Jean-Luc Sadourny played 71 Tests for France between 1991 and 2001 and beat the All Blacks four times in six Tests.

He was nicknamed The Old Woman (La Vieille) and he is generally considered one of the best French players of his generation, a fair successor to Serge Blanco at fullback.

The ‘Try from the End of the World’ was in 1994, the last time the All Blacks were beaten at Eden Park.

Down 20-16, France launched an audacious attack from their own 22 which won them the series having beaten the All Blacks 22-8 in the first Test in Christchurch. Sadourny kicked a drop goal.

Speaking to in 2009, Sadourny reflected upon the series by saying.

“In Christchurch, we were revved up by (Philippe) Sella’s one-hundredth selection.

“We played with a lot of conviction I think the All Blacks had taken us for clowns a little and thought that we would be beaten in the physical engagement.

“The second test was a little more complicated. The All Blacks were hungry for revenge, and we were a little annoyed we were just being considered as an aperitif before the main course that was South Africa.”

On his winning try in Auckland, he said:

“Christophe Deylaud found a gap and passed to Abdel Benazzi. Benazzi, who had a habit of messing up nine out of 10 passes, somehow got the ball away to Emile Ntamack.

“He then cut inside and passed to Guy Accocebery who could have gone all the way but with the All Black cover in proximity, he passed to me just a few metres out.

“All I had to do was score. It really was a great try and symbolic of the free-spirited nature of the team. We really were a band of brothers.”

Less remembered is a try Sadourny scored the following year in a 22-15 win by France in Toulouse. The All Blacks could only muster five penalties by Simon Culhane.

Sadourny missed selection for the 1999 World Cup but was recalled in 2000 and helped France beat the All Blacks 42-33 in Marseilles.

Christophe Lamaison – The 1999 Semi-Final Wizard

Christophe Lamaison was a cornerstone of the 1997 and 1998 French teams that won a Five Nations Grand Slam at centre.

By 1999 he’d transferred to first-five when he played the first of his four Tests against the All Blacks in Wellington in June. It was a disaster. France lost 54-7 in the last international at Athletic Park.

Three months later, in the World Cup semi-final, Lamaison scored 28 points (1 try, 4 conversions, 3 penalties, 2 drop goals) as France shockingly eliminated New Zealand from the tournament.

France was down 24-10 at halftime, following two tries to Jonah Lomu, but New Zealand had no answer to the French onslaught in the second half. A deft chip by Lamaison for centre Richard Dourthe, when it was 29-24 to France, sealed the All Blacks’ fate.

The next year, Lamaison started a two-Test series. He scored 16 points in a 39-26 defeat in Paris. In Marseille he was even better, amassing 27 points (3 conversions, 5 penalties, 2 drop goals) in a 42-33 win.

Thierry Dusautoir – Tackling Machine Stops All Blacks in Cardiff

It’s a tribute to the influence of Dusautoir he was officially named man of the match in the 2011 World Cup final that France narrowly lost 8-7 to the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Dusautoir scored a try early in the second half which amplified an already tense encounter dominated by defence. Dusautoir made 22 tackles.

Four years earlier Dusautoir was even more damaging against the All Blacks in the infamous 20-18 World Cup quarter-final win in Cardiff. He scored a try and made a World Cup record 38 tackles (two more than the entire All Blacks side) in a single game.

He lowered opposite Richie McCaw eight times, Mils Muliaina four times, Byron Kelleher, Dan Carter, Tony Woodcock and Sitiveni Sivivatu three each, Joe Rokocoko, Anton Oliver, Rodney So’oialo, Jerry Collins, Chris Jack twice and Keith Robinson, Andrew Hore, Brendon Leonard, Ali Williams, and Isaia Toeava once.

Capped 80 times, Dusautoir also started a 27-22 French victory against the All Blacks in 2009 in Dunedin. That Test is best remembered for a 60m intercept try scored by French fullback Maxime Medard.



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