On embracing a fantastic rivalry

There’s something New Zealanders need to do as a rugby nation. We need to celebrate our rivalry with France, like we do with South Africa and Australia. They more than deserve it.

When the All Blacks won the 1987 tournament against France I was 8 years young.  All I knew was that the All Blacks won, and that from the way my father talked about it, so we should have.

My dad is 65. That means his version of Richie McCaw, is Colin Meads, who never played in or won a RWC. Didn’t need to. Dad grew up in Parakao, a tiny Northland location in the Mangakahia valley, west of Whangarei. So his other heroes are players with names like Peter Jones, Joe Morgan and Sid Going. Those guys never won a world title either. They, like Meads, went on tours and played against touring teams, events that foster relationships between teams and fans, which breeds mutual respect and kinship.

My brother and I grew up near Whangamata, unable to watch TV until SKY became available, because of the volcanic hills. We did get to watch a fair bit of rugby on TV though, because of dad’s love for the game. Looking back there were some fortuitously timed trips to see relatives. Well played, dad. And thanks.

I was made aware as soon as I could start to understand the game that some monsters existed in a place called South Africa, but they weren’t allowed to play because of something called Apartheid. I learned of a time that dad and his brothers would listen on the radio in my grandfather’s cowshed, as the smaller but more skilled players we sent to this mysterious place took on a bunch of giants with weird names.

At least we still had the Australians, in their canary yellow and mould green shorts, to provide a rivalry.

We also had another great generation of players to watch. My rugby hero was Number 8 Zinzan Brooke, to me still the greatest rugby all-rounder to ever lace boots. A forward too, importantly.

My rugby world for the most part was pretty awesome, the All Blacks won the 1987 World Cup, which I don’t really remember. Sure, they lost to the Aussies at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, which I only remember because my uncle swore about it. Other than that they pretty much won a lot.

And then in 1994 the French visited and beat the All Blacks on home turf. Twice. I was 15 and rugby was pretty high on my list of stuff that mattered, and I was confused. What was going on? Who were these tricky stepping moustache wearing dudes that didn’t care about how many times we’d thrashed everyone else?

Oddly, my father wasn’t that shocked. He was grumpy, sure. Same with my grandfather on my mum’s side, and most of my uncles. But they didn’t “hate” the French for it (Still don’t – apart from the eye-gouging thing. I’m pretty sure even Gandhi would have struggled to be okay with that feral act). That’s not to say they weren’t a bit miserable for a few days.

Weeks.

Okay for a while…

Amongst what was said by many of the rugby people I knew, there was a common and fairly simple theme: “That’s the French, they do that every now and then… They’re just tricky buggers.”

New Zealand’s great rivalry with South Africa was more than saluted in 1995 when both teams made the final. I can’t remember the result of that game but France came in third.

One behind New Zealand.

So I don’t know when it was that certain All Blacks coaches stopped being aware that France can make a defensive strategy resemble a single damp square of one-ply toilet paper. I’m not even sure that they did stop, maybe they just failed to focus their All Blacks side for a team that is notorious for winning against the odds. Or, maybe our somewhat unrecognised rivals outplayed us.

A quick internet search will tell you that they were the first of the Northern Hemisphere teams to tour New Zealand, in 1966. That was before the All Blacks had toured France too.

Les Bleus had first won against us in France in 1954, 48 years after the first game between our nations. They had to wait until 1972 to do it again, and until 1979 to get a first win in New Zealand. Then they won the series in 1994, and flattened us at the RWC 1999 Semi-Final.

That’s actually far less inconsistent than it looks, if you notice the low number of test matches played back then…

Anyway, back to World Cup stuff. Just like most of New Zealand, along with Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, I didn’t see it coming. On the 7th of October, 2007, some guy named Wayne Barnes (he doesn’t even have a middle name. What kind of Englishman doesn’t have middle name?) kitted up and went about ignoring a large proportion of the laws of rugby and physics. He also ruined my November, December, and a large portion of my 2008.

I was living in Britain, where Englishmen jeered at New Zealanders as if the English themselves had won something. How’s the karma, chaps?

The French fans (at least where I was) were almost apologetic, as if they knew they wouldn’t get up for the next two games.

When the All Blacks finally ended the Great Rugby World Cup Drought (1991-2011), French fans didn’t jump on cars or go nuts in the crowd around Auckland. They lost by one point, kicked by fifth choice 1st 5/8th Stephen bloody Donald. They’ve also been to more Rugby World Cup Finals than any other team without winning the damn thing, and they still don’t lose their merde.

Often when I meet a Springbok fan we have a good yarn about the rugby, and it’s respectful. We have history, we’ll say, or there’s tradition there.

When encountering an Australian it’s unlikely they’ll be keen for union chat, but if they do it’ll be good fun, before the New Zealander must make a small acknowledgement of their occasional successful results.

So today, on the eve of the next chapter between the All Blacks of New Zealand and France’s Les Bleus, I’m making a small request: Enough of letting the media fan the flames of fear and mistrust. Let’s embrace our fantastic rivalry. What’s more, let’s push for a full (provincial teams included) tour.

One each way, every three years, before World Cups, so we get a damn good look at them.

Allez les Noirs.

Contributed by Sam

“It’ll probably buff out…”

The very first 1987 Rugby World Cup that was jointly held in New Zealand / Australia was a wonderful collection of last minute amateur hour cobble something together type of tournament and as a rugby mad 17 year old with parents who had just gone on a 3 month overseas tour and left me at home by myself with the family chequebook I absolutely loved the tournament.

It was the wonderful type of tournament where you could just rock up to the ground prior to the match and buy tickets at the gate by handing over some cash – none of this palaver of ordering tickets on-line via a ballot and hope like hell that you won’t get fleeced too much.

As I mentioned before – my parents had wisely decided to head overseas and left me at home in charge of all affairs – and as far as I was concerned this included writing notes to school for any time away from school. I think it might be fair to say that I might have been the only 17 year old in the country enrolled at a NZ school that managed to watch every single game that was televised live as I excused myself from school and headed home for any midweek game to watch it.

Rugby is educational!

As for going to watch matches live – well that was simple – I had the keys to Mum’s Mark 2 Ford Escort 1600 Sport so I headed off to catch pool matches in Wellington, Palmerston North, Napier and Auckland. Enjoyed the traveling road show so much that I headed up to Auckland to catch the final as well and then back the next day to Napier to welcome home the parents.

Aside from the actual fun of the tournament once it was under way – my best 1987 Rugby World Cup anecdote came before the tournament when the New Zealand Rugby Football Union toured the Cup around the country visiting rugby clubs up and down the country.

It was Thursday night training for the Eskview Under 19s, we had showered and had our meal (Mince on toast, couple of boiled spuds, and peas), and we had the cup brought in by some Union ‘Fish-Head’.

On sighting of the Cup for the very first time I must admit I was not that impressed by it when one compares it to the Bledisloe Cup or the Ranfurly Shield. As it was placed on the table we milled around and took a closer look at it and then took turns holding and a photo being taken of it. When it was my turn it was passed to me by my friend Gary and in passing it over I didn’t realise that the lid was separate, so I just grabbed one of the handles at an angle which meant that the lid fell off and landed with a thud on to a leg rail of a bar leaner.

“Oops.”

Picking up the lid of the Cup it was pretty obvious that I had just caused a noticeable dent into the edge of the lid.

Not to worry. “It’ll probably buff out…..”

A photo was taken of me holding the now damaged Cup and lid – which for some strange reason my sister now has in her possession in England.

One of the team mates produced a couple of quart bottles of beer and filled the cup up and we all then passed it around and drunk to a future All Black victory.

Good times!

I don’t anything like this can happen to the Cup now – and somehow I think that is a bit of shame.

Contributed by Bill Blackstone

1987 – France vs Fiji

1987 – Quarter-Finals

France 31 – Fiji 16

France have made it through to the quarter-finals, where they’ll play the All Blacks in Cardiff.

In 1987, France who were the eventual finalists had to get past Fiji at the quarter-final stage. This highlight reel showcases that game from a remarkably empty Eden Park,  and features some fantastic running rugby from the Fijians, as well as thousands of New Zealanders at an outdoor event sans hats.

The commentary is of course the recognizable tones of the legendary Bill Mclaren.

The day Ilitia Savai scored the final try

1987 – Group Stages

Fiji 28 – Argentina 9

My undoubted highlight of 87 tournament though was going to the old Rugby Park in Hamilton to see Fiji flog Argentina 28 – 9. Ilitia Savai the giant second rower who locked for Waikato was a real favourite of the Mooloo faithful meaning Fiji received tremendous support from the local rugby public. The men from Suva were the home team that day.

I vividly remember after the game walking behind the main stand to perch on tip toes while peering through the louvre windows of Fijian changing shed. No security in 1987!

As steam billowed into my face from the hot showers which were running, listening to the jubilant Fijians sing was a magic moment.

Contributed by Steve Hale (@bullhale)

In putting together this story, I discovered that Ilitia Savai passed away in February of 2015. This footage of Fiji’s famous victory over Argentina includes his him scoring the final try in that match (at the 1hour 16min mark). The cheers from the Hamilton crowd echo what Steve says above about.

1991 – Japan defeat Zimbabwe

A huge congratulations to the Cherry Blossoms on their stunning win over the Springboks from Brighton this morning.

Here’s some rare footage from their only other RWC victory – when they demolished Zimbabwe by 51 to 8. That game was played at Ravenhill Stadium in Belfast, and featured a lot of hoops in the jerseys.

Here are two retro matches to show how far Japan have come. The first is from the 1987 RWC, where they took on the United States, from a rather empty Ballymore Oval in Brisbane, in which the US managed a 3 point win.

1987 Group Stages:  United States 21 – Japan 18

The second is from the 1991 World Cup, Lansdowne Road in Dublin – where Ireland won 32-16.