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'There's no excuses': What Sam Whitelock said after the loss to France

By Finn Morton
(Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

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France’s 40-25 win over the All Blacks on Sunday morning [NZT] might just be their greatest and most dominant win ever in the history of this matchup.

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The two sides have a decorated rivalry which has included some all-time classics, but has largely been dominated by the All Blacks as of late. Until this mornings Test at Stade de France, the men in black hadn’t lost to France since 2009.

But with France having won the last two World Rugby Under-20 Championship titles in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and with the men’s team improving on the back of that, Les Bleus seem to be building nicely less than two years out from hosting the World Cup.

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster reacts to 25-40 loss to France in Paris
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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster reacts to 25-40 loss to France in Paris

In fact, France and New Zealand are set to go head-to-head in the opening match of the 2023 World Cup. With these two teams not having played since 2018, this match was always going to indicate where these sides were at a couple of years out from the sports penultimate competition.

It was a great start from the home side this morning, who scored two tries inside the first 12 minutes to race out to a promising 14-6 lead. They soon added to that, taking a 24-6 advantage into the break.

While New Zealand fought their way back to rail by just two mid-way through the second-half, a yellow card to Ardie Savea made more things difficult as France ran away with a historic result.

Speaking after the match, All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock suggested that the fast start from France was a defining part of this Test.

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“There’s no excuses from us as players and as a team, as management as well. We’ve had a really good week preparation wise, but we just didn’t execute the way we wanted to,” Whitelock said after the 40-25 loss.

“I felt like after the halftime, we kind of showed up and we score points pretty quickly and pretty well.

“I thought everything that we achieved in that little bit of time after halftime was how we wanted to play but in Test match rugby, you can’t give a team 20-odd points in the first-half and expected to come back.”

The physicality of the French was a significant factor in this Test, as they ran and defended with plenty of controlled aggression and passion.

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France used their driving maul effectively against the All Blacks, with hooker Peato Mauvaka scoring two tries from an attacking lineout. Mauvaka’s first was the opening score of the match, with his second coming just over thirty minutes into the contest.

“I think the French started really well, had a couple of opportunities five from our line with a couple of maul tries which definitely hurts being a tight forward,” Whitelock said. “It’s definitely something that we’ve had pride (in) throughout the whole year and to give up a couple of easy ones like that definitely hurts.

“It’s something that we’ve got to make sure going forward, even though we don’t have a game next week, we get better and evolve in that area.

“We can’t allow teams, especially the French, to come away with 14 points so easy in the game like that.”

All Blacks coach Ian Foster echoed Whitelock’s comments, sharing a similar view.

“We certainly allowed ourselves to get into pressured situations,” Foster said.

“I think Jordie (Barrett) thought there was a knock-on our something and just cleared the ball instead of kicking the ball properly. So I’m not sure where that came from but that put us under a lot of pressure right from the start.

“We fully intended to be reasonably direct with them and play an aggressive game but you know, you got to give them some credit.”

For the All Blacks, it’s the first time since 2009 that they’ve lost three Tests in a year. They lost to South Africa in a thrilling Test in the last round of the Rugby Championship, and were outplayed by Ireland last weekend.

But while he didn’t discredit the performances of both Ireland and France over the past couple of weeks, he did suggest that fatigue may be a factor.

“You couldn’t help but be impressed with the way Ireland and France played, and let’s talk about France tonight.

“If I focus on tonight, I felt like the formula we had was good. I thought we got swayed away from it a little bit in the first half and we conceded a couple of tries that we don’t normally concede.

“I was delighted (in) the way we came back and really put them under a little bit of pressure and we’re just gonna learn and we’ve just got to do more of that for longer periods.

“I think there is a little bit of a slipping away from us at the end, the last two Tests, but I don’t want to disrespect two performances against us that I think been pretty well top drawer.

“I look at the balance of it, I mentioned earlier that you look at the likes of South Africa and Australia and us, we’ve probably all sort of run out of juice a little bit near the end. But gee, the top six or seven teams in World Rugby right now are strong.”

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