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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 18:51 GMT


Thank goodness for France

France: "They play with natural flamboyance"

The BBC's voice of Rugby, Bill McLaren, says the stage is set for a "cracking" World Cup final after last weekend's thrilling - but contrasting - semi-finals.

I've had the privilege to see all four World Cups and I've commentated on international rugby since 1953, but I don't think I've ever seen a greater spectacle than France beating New Zealand 43-31 in last Sunday's semi-final.

It was the kind of match that had you standing up in jubilation and the thing that startled everybody was that it wasn't just the All Blacks being beaten, they were being taken apart in a display of vintage French rugby.

Bruising confrontation

The French forwards were an inspiration, taking on a very good New Zealand pack and getting the better of it much of the time. Then there was Christophe Dominici's 40 yard zig-zag run that ended in the first try. Just brilliant.


[ image: Australia:
Australia: "Hot shots"
It showed that without Jonah Lomu, the All Blacks are not quite the awesome force that their aura would suggest they are. Lomu is a very special one-off kind of player and he demonstrated what a tremendous powerhouse he is.

But take away his two tries and New Zealand were already beaten by a handsome margin.

Australia's epic 27-21 semi-final victory over South Africa on Saturday was a total contrast, with hard, bruising confrontation where the France game had magnificent passages of interplay.

It was not a great spectacle, because the match was limited by the conditions and the tightness of the passages of play, but it was a wonderful contest of nailbiting rugby football nonetheless.

It was ironic that stand-off Stephen Larkham slotted the drop goal that lifted the Wallabies, when it was the Springboks' fly-half Jannie de Beer who knocked England out with an incredible five drop goals in the quarter-finals.

Drop goal reborn

Larkham's was an innebriated, drunken drop-goal, but it did the job and put Australia through, in much the same way that Christophe Lamaison's two quick drop goals put France back in touch in the other semi-final.

One thing this World Cup has done is repopularise the drop goal. A lot of people would get rid of it, but I believe it is part and parcel of the game of rugby and its return is welcome.


[ image: Jonah Lomu:
Jonah Lomu: "A tremendous powerhouse"
And don't be fooled into thinking it's an easy option. The forwards and their half-backs have to work their butts off to get into a position to take one. This competition has shown the value of the drop goal, because it has been crucial in so many matches.

It took something like these two semi-finals to set the World Cup alight and get people sitting on the edge of their seats. The problem with this tournament has been that so many of the matches were too one-sided. Thank goodness for France.

Crowds are not too fired up by scores of 101-3 and I think the organisers will have to reschedule the next competition so there are fewer mismatches.

As for the final at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, the big question is - have France blown themselves out? Can they lift themselves again?

Because it will take another performance on a par with beating the All Blacks to beat the Wallabies.

Tremendous achievement

Australia are hot-shots and you have to remember that they defeated the New Zealanders by a record 28-7 margin not so long ago.

France will be motivated by the desire to become the first French squad to win the World Cup, having been runners-up in the inaugural competition in 1987. It would be a tremendous achievement if they could do it this time.

Both sides have it in their hearts to play attractive, running rugby.

France play with natural flamboyance and nine times out of 10 they will have that ball rippling along. They have played the percentage game in the past, but they love nothing better than tilting their lances at the opposition and having a charge.

And Australia have to play attractive rugby, because of the competition they have at home from rugby league and Australian rules football. If they don't play in an exciting fashion, nobody will watch them.

Most of the clever money will be on the Wallabies to win, but if France get their noses in front and catch sight of that Webb Ellis trophy you never know what might happen.

Provided the weather is all right - I hear tell that they might be closing the roof of the Millennium Stadium if it isn't - we should have a cracking match. Eight or nine tries and the lead changing hands at least 12 times should just about do it for me!



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