Romain Rouillard / Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP 10:00 am, September 07, 2023On Sunday, October 23, 2011, the Blues face New Zealand in the final of the 2011 World Cup. At Eden Park in Auckland, a true temple of world rugby, the XV of France fails by a small amount against the formidable black machine. An 8-7 defeat at the end of a meeting as narrow as it was memorable.
The Eden Park in Auckland, 61,500 boiling spectators, waiting for the triumph of their All Blacks, in the final of this World Cup played in New Zealand. It's hard to imagine a better context for a great moment of sport and rugby. For Les Bleus, miraculous finalist of this 2011 World Cup, it is a mountain to climb. An elephantine challenge that they will pass within a hair's breadth of taking up. By losing 8-7, the teammates of Thierry Dusautoir, elected man of the match, touched the capital feat. Never have the Blues been so close to a first planetary coronation.
However, according to New Zealand observers, the suspense was not supposed to be at the heart of this duel. The Blacks had to triumph without a shot and lift a second Webb-Ellis Trophy, 24 years after the 1987 trophy won against ... to the XV of France. A feeling that was not far from sharing the tricolor observers. In France, we did not give expensive skin of French because this World Cup 2011 was far from being a sinecure for the selection flanked by the rooster and even the finest connoisseurs of the oval would have had all the trouble in the world to imagine this XV of France in the costume of the magnificent loser.
Icy atmosphere, pride of champion
Dryly beaten by these same Blacks a few weeks earlier in the group stage (37-17), defeated to the general surprise by the Tonga Islands (12-19), the Blues could have taken the door in the first round and thus imitated those of football a year earlier in South Africa. A rugby stammering on the green rectangle and this heavy atmosphere internally seemed to lead straight this XV of France into the wall.
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The frosty relationship that some players had with the coach, Marc Lièvremont, was an open secret. To the point of bringing out a theory - always refuted by the ex-trainer - according to which the Blues would have entered into self-management, freeing themselves from the instructions of the coach. But these Blues will take a malicious pleasure in thwarting the predictions. Successive winners of England and Wales, here are the Blues in the final of a World Cup that nevertheless looked like a resounding fiasco.
The V of Victory
A remarkable course that will not be enough to lower the temperature within the group, Marc Lièvrement does not hesitate to describe his players as "dirty kids" after their night trip to celebrate their qualification in the final. But it doesn't matter. These Blues have a story to write. And will not even wait for the kick-off of this final to scratch the first lines. Because in 50 years, we will talk again about that famous V of victory formed by the French even before the New Zealand haka begins.
Les Bleus advance towards their opponents in full haka
Photo credit: HANNAH PETERS / GETTY IMAGES ASIAPAC / Getty Images via AFP
And what about these few determined steps towards these Blacks in full warrior representation. The black machine is warned: this XV of France is not an expiatory victim. The match will be the perfect illustration of this. These Blues, all dressed in white, bite to the teeth in this final and manhandle All Blacks, visibly destabilized by the titanic pressure that weighs on their shoulders. Initiatives are white, mastery is white, commitment and intensity too.
And the bad gestures, they are clearly New Zealand but will benefit from a regrettable leniency on the part of the South African referee Craig Joubert. Scrum-half Morgan Parra, out on injury after a punch from Richie McCaw, can attest to this. However, it was the locals who took the lead at the break thanks to a beautiful combination in touch concluded by a try from Tony Woodcock (5-0). And this despite the clumsiness of Piri Weepu against the poles (0/3).
With one penalty
On the return of the locker room, after a penalty scored by Stephen Donald (8-0), the men of Lièvrement finally see their pugnacity rewarded and a bad game at the foot of Weepu leads to the try at the foot of the post of Thierry Dusautoir, taking advantage of a remarkable work of the mover Aurélien Rougerie. The whites return to a point but the score, alas, will not change anymore. François Trinh-Duc, although excellent since his entry into the game in place of Parra, misses the penalty that would have allowed the French to take control. A cruel outcome for the Blues who will have made wobble as rarely the men in black in the temple of rugby.
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Then followed the dark years of French rugby and this anecdotal 2015 World Cup ended with a scathing correction against the Blacks (62-13). But the trough of the wave now seems far away and the XV of France 2023 version, with its golden generation, has found a place of choice among the strongholds of the international oval. Facing New Zealand on September 8, in the opening of this World Cup, the Blues will have a message to convey, a status of favorite to assume. In a France stadium filled with 80,000 spectators, everything will come together for a great moment of sport. Like at Eden Park 12 years ago.