Wary of French backlash, All Blacks revisit Cardiff calamity

France's Maxime Medard is tackled by New Zealand's Anton Lienert-Brown (L) and Ngani Laumape during their first rugby union Test match, at Eden Park in Auckland, on June 9, 2018

Wellington (AFP) – New Zealand’s shock loss to France at the 2007 World Cup continues to burn deep with the All Blacks drawing on the defeat as motivation for the second Test in Wellington on Saturday.

The world champions expect a French backlash after last week’s first Test thrashing, and said the 20-18 defeat in the World Cup quarter-finals 11 years ago had taught them never to underestimate their mercurial opponents. 

It condemned the All Blacks to their earliest exit at a World Cup — just four months after they had beaten France 42-11 and 61-10 in a two-Test home series.

That, according to head coach Steve Hansen, is why last week’s runaway 52-11 over France in Auckland was no indication of how the second Test will pan out.

“We worked that out in half-an-hour sitting despondently in a changing shed in Cardiff,” Hansen said Thursday after naming an unchanged side, referring to the 2007 game.

French coach Jacques Brunel has made five changes and while he downplayed the chance of an upset he said Les Bleus “will not make it easy” for the All Blacks this time. 

“We want to win, but first it will be necessary to stem (the All Blacks attack).”

In a loose-forward shake-up, Brunel has rushed Kelian Galletier and Mathieu Babillot into the starting line-up, replacing Judicael Cancoriet and Fabien Sanconnie, while Kevin Gourdon, who started on the flank in Auckland, moves to the back row.  

Galletier and Babillot were late arrivals in New Zealand after playing in the Top 14 final between Castres and Montpellier, along with Benjamin Fall, who takes over the fullback role from Maxime Medard. 

Gael Fickou comes into the side for injured wing Remy Grosso, who suffered a tour-ending double facial fracture in the first Test.

“We made big mistakes (last week). We cannot do that against the All Blacks,” Brunel added.

– ‘Painful moment’ –

However, Hansen said he was trying not to read too much into last week’s result. 

“One of the big lessons we learned (in Cardiff) was that if you don’t plan for the unexpected then you’re going to get smacked by it and ever since that day we’ve always expected the unexpected to happen,” he said.

“Whilst it was a painful moment in All Blacks history, particularly for the people involved in it, me being one of them, I think that game has had a significant bearing on what’s happened since.”

New Zealand have played 138 Tests since that fateful day, winning 120 including two World Cups for an 87 percent success rate. 

The losses include being beaten by France the next time they met, in Dunedin two years later, but they have won all 12 clashes since. 

Despite New Zealand’s dominance over the past nine years, Hansen believed France would take confidence from being ahead until early in the second half in Auckland, before the All Blacks scored two tries while lock Paul Gabrillagues was in the sin bin.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the yellow card and how that changed the game and I think they’ll think they’re in the fight, so they’ll come with plenty to play for and we’ll have to step it up a notch or two,” Hansen said. 

“They’ll try and slow the game down. That’s the pace they want to play at and we want to play full bore with accuracy. That’s our challenge. 

“If it comes off it doesn’t matter who you play, when you play that game well you can rip anyone apart.”