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FEATURE The ‘try from the end of the world’ that embarrassed All Black debutant Lomu

The ‘try from the end of the world’ that embarrassed All Black debutant Lomu
2 weeks ago

Thirty years ago this month Jonah Lomu played his first Test match for New Zealand. It was an historic event. At 19 years and 45 days, Lomu became the youngest All Black, taking the record that had been held by Edgar Wrigley since 1905.

But 26 June 1994 wasn’t a day to remember for Lomu. The All Blacks lost 22-8 to France in Christchurch, only the second victory for Les Bleus in 33 years of touring New Zealand. A week later at Eden Park, the tourists made it three wins, and in the process won their first series in New Zealand. No international side has won at Eden Park since.

The two-Test series is best remembered not for Lomu but for the way in which France won the second Test in Auckland in the dying minutes, which has been mythologised as ‘the try from the end of the world’.

Philippe Saint-Andre
Philippe Saint-Andre, who launched the move which led to France’s score, also finished one of the great French tries at Twickenham in 1991 (Photo Simon Bruty/Getty Images)

It can be found on YouTube. It’s worth a minute of your time. From a line-out on half-way, All Black fly-half Stephen Bachop kicks long into the French 22. The ball is collected by Philippe Saint-Andre. For a moment the left wing looks infield at his full-back Jean-Luc Sadourny. The easy option is a pass so that Sadourny can clear the danger. But a couple of minutes earlier Saint-Andre had scolded the full-back for doing just that. “I was mad,” remembered Saint-Andre. “I said, ‘guys…if we have the chance to run the ball, we need to do it’”. Because I’d bollocked everyone five minutes earlier, I had to run the ball.’

Saint-Andre tucks the ball under his right arm and accelerates out of his 22, eluding the tackles of a couple of Kiwis. Lock Mark Cooksley grabs the wing on the French 10-yard line and drags him to the ground. The ball is swiftly recycled and moved right. It comes to the great flanker, Abdel Benazzi, who throws a dummy and finds Emile Ntamack cutting in off his right wing. He links with flanker Laurent Cabannes, who changes the point of attack with a shimmy to the right and then pops a scissors pass to fly-half Yann Delaigue, who dances out of a tackle and into the All Black 22, flicking the ball to Guy Accoceberry.

Years later, Accoceberry recalled what happened next. “I came up alongside Yann, who saw me and passed, with the whitewash beckoning. But the final 20 metres after a seven-week tour proved too much and I could see a trio of All Blacks hunting me down.”

Lomu bought Benazzi’s dummy and then he was left looking as confused as a tourist lost on the Paris metro as Ntamack and Cabannes turned him inside out.

Accoceberry senses a blue shirt steaming up on his outside. His legs are heavy but his hands soft, and Sadourny takes the pass and plunges over the line for the match-winning score.

Watching the clip three decades later, one is struck by how rugby has changed. So little shape and structure in defence, so much more space in attack.

No-one suffered more in ‘the try from the end of the world’ than young Lomu. He had only played a handful of first-class matches, and it showed. It was he who bought Benazzi’s dummy and then he was left looking as confused as a tourist lost on the Paris metro as Ntamack and Cabannes turned him inside out.

Jonah Lomu
A year after his Test debut, Lomu scored four tries in a World Cup semi-final to announce himself as a global star (Photo Dave Rogers/Allsport via Getty Images)

On the other wing that day was John Kirwan, coming to the end of his career after a decade of brilliance. “Jonah was put on the left wing – he was probably a little bit young and not ready for that,” he reflected.

Kirwan had been the star of the All Black side that had won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, scoring six tries using his pace and power. Kirwan was one of the biggest wingers Test rugby had seen at the time: 6ft 4in and 14st 7lb. One British newspaper described him as “a battering ram”.

Then Lomu appeared. The same height as Kirwan but four stones heavier. Up until then only lock forwards carried those dimensions.

He was huge and he was fast. I had never seen a wing that quick, who could physically make such an impact.

Kirwan came up against him shortly before the French tour, when they lined up against each other in an All Blacks’ Probables vs Possibles trial in Gisborne. The South African rugby writer, Mark Keohane, was in New Zealand at the time and went to the trial. He was left dazzled by Lomu. “He was huge and he was fast,” he said. “I had never seen a wing that quick, who could physically make such an impact.”

Nor had Kirwan. The first time Lomu ran at him, he missed him. His defence improved once he’d got over the shock. In the pre-internet era, when video analysis was still in its infancy, he had no forewarning of what Will Carling later called Lomu’s ‘freakish’ physique.

The then All Black coach, Laurie Mains, reckoned Lomu was ready for Test rugby despite his lack of experience. Had it been England or any of the other Home Nations touring in June 1994, Lomu’s callowness might not have been exposed.

Serge Blanco
Serge Blanco’s winning try in the 1987 World Cup semi-final was another example of fearless French attack (Photo Georges Gobet/AFP via Getty Images)

But in those days, the one side who were capable of ripping a defence to shreds was France. The late 80s and early 1990s were the Wild West days of French rugby. Their great full-back Serge Blanco, whose 38 Test tries is still a French record, got by on a couple of packets of cigarettes a day; another of that era, the prop, Armand Vaquerin, had blown his brains out in 1993 playing Russian roulette.

Their matches against England in 1991 and 1992 were among some of the most violent in Test history; after they lost to their hated enemy in the 1991 World Cup, their coach, Daniel Dubroca, manhandled the referee in the tunnel and called him a ‘cheat’.

They had no discipline, no organisation, no structure; but they had audacity, fearlessness and a madness that no Anglophone side could match. When the stars were aligned the results were spectacular.  The Blanco try against Australia in the dying moments of the 1987 World Cup semi-final, for example, and Saint-Andre’s try at Twickenham in the 1991 Five Nations, started from behind their own posts.

Amateur players were fit but not professionally fit, meaning that the longer games went on the more room there was to roam. The French could exploit this space better than any other team.

Blanco’s winner against the Wallabies is memorable for the number of bodies littering the pitch. Everyone was shattered. There were no tactical substitutions (they arrived in 1996) so players went the full 80 unless they were injured.

Amateur players were fit but not professionally fit, meaning that the longer games went on the more room there was to roam. The French could exploit this space better than any other team. But then professionalism arrived in 1995. Its poster boy was Lomu, who was in the right place at the right time to become rugby union’s first and still greatest superstar.

After the series defeat by France, Laurie Mains acknowledged that he had blooded the youngster prematurely. He was sent back to his club, Counties Manukau, to gain more experience. He learned quickly, and was selected for the 1995 World Cup.

No player will ever dominate a World Cup the way Lomu did in South Africa. The only sporting comparison is Pele and what he did as a 17-year-old for Brazil in the 1958 football World Cup.

Lomu and rugby went global. He was profiled in the New York Times, chased by American Football teams and he starred in a British TV advert for pizza, along with Tony Underwood, one of many opponents he’d run over in the World Cup.

Jonah Lomu
Lomu scored eight tries in seven Tests against England, often leaving would-be tacklers in his wake (Photo David Rogers/Allsport via Getty Images)

Lomu changed the perception of rugby. Before 1995, it had, to again quote Will Carling, something of an ‘old farts’ reputation.  The 20-year-old Lomu brought a glamour and excitement to the sport. He was the perfect vehicle to drive rugby forward into the professional era.

He died in 2015, taken far too soon. In that same year France hit rock bottom in Test rugby, slaughtered 62-13 in the World Cup quarter-final by the All Blacks, who went on to win the tournament.

No Test team struggled to adapt more to professional rugby than France. It took them decades to understand that the sport was no longer amateur, and that fitness, nutrition and structure mattered.

For a country not averse to revolutions, the French were surprisingly slow to see in 1995 that the young tyro they’d embarrassed the previous year was the man who revolutionised rugby.

Comments

4 Comments
T
Troy 15 days ago

What a ridiculously attention seeking headline. Out of all the All Blacks defence that was shredded that day, like Laurie Mains you chose to highlight the 19 yr old on the wing as the breakdown in defence. Mains never wanted Lomu in his team citing “lazy in defence, slow to turn and cover and a poor trainer”.
It was only a last minute reprieve that he decided to include Jonah "against his better instincts” and then he tried to claim a masterstroke by including him. They talk about Foster's success rate as an All Black coach or lack of, Mains makes him look like a genius.
He's also the same guy who disagreed with the quota system when Sth Africa were trying to integrate rugby for the majority - the blacks. Stating it was detrimental to the game and unfair to the whites, 3 World Cups later …
Let’s not talk about his playing days, less said the better.

G
Gabbo 16 days ago

terrible header indeed, lousy work instead of trusting (and keeping the highlights on) the self-suficiency of that try's quality

J
Jmann 16 days ago

I rather think that try embarrassed Stephen Bashop if anyone. All he had to do was kick the ball out and the game was won.

S
SadersMan 17 days ago

What a horrible header. What is this? Disrespect Jonah Day?

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