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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 18:28 GMT

Fabulous French earn presidential praise

The French team embark on a lap of honour after their superb win

The French rugby team are basking in the glow of their extraordinary World Cup semi-final over tournament favourites New Zealand at Twickenham.

The All Black coach John Hart: "We made mistakes and the French capitalised"
French President Jacques Chirac was among the first to offer his congratulations to the team, who had been billed as bit-part players for the game, with the Kiwis expected to secure a place in the final.

Raphael Ibanez's men produced a remarkable display to come through 43-31 and set up a showdown with Australia in Cardiff next Saturday.

[ image: A French fan roars his team on to victory at Twickenham]
A French fan roars his team on to victory at Twickenham
In a message to the players, President Chirac said: "It's a fantastic feat that you have just achieved, beating the All Blacks in a World Cup semi-final and I send you my warmest and most admiring congratulations.

"You managed to show the value of French rugby and an exceptional courage against the All Blacks, who all the experts said were the favourites.

"It's a big moment for our country and I will be, like all French people, by your side for Saturday's final."

The president, a big supporter of the French football team, saw his opinion polls ratings rise when France won the football World Cup last year.

France's Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was also keen to express his support for the French team, who had been much criticised during the year after a hitherto uninspiring 1999.

[ image: All Black skipper Taine Randell tries to come to terms with defeat]
All Black skipper Taine Randell tries to come to terms with defeat
He said: "What a match. Like millions of French people, I watched your exploits and shook with emotion in the face of your talented performance.

"Since the beginning of the World Cup I knew you were capable of surpassing yourselves.

"Now we will meet for the final. We are all with you. Thank you to everybody."

French coach Jean-Claude Skrela was full of praise for his players.

"The whole team rose to the occasion today," he said. "Our defence was very good, we were very aggressive and we took our opportunities."

Skipper Ibanez added: "It is a great moment for us. We feel as if we have scaled a mountain."

[ image: Christophe Lamaison and Abdel Benazzi celebrate France's success]
Christophe Lamaison and Abdel Benazzi celebrate France's success
New Zealand coach John Hart was inconsolable after his team failed to reach the final.

He said: "We made too many mistakes. The French capitalised on that and got behind us. We put ourselves under huge pressure.

"It's unusual for us to be put under such under pressure and we didn't respond. We threw passes we should not have thrown.

"Our defence was not good. We needed to get phases together and it wasn't until too late that we did that."

Jonah Lomu, who extended his World Cup try record to 14 with a typically stunning double, admitted the All Blacks had been outplayed.

"With the French, if you give them an opportunity, they will take a mile. They love running with the ball and playing with a lot of pace," Lomu said.

"France had the ball far more than we did during that 30-minute spell, and they played very well."

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