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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 13:09 GMT
Torturous end for Kiwis

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Sydney

So New Zealand finished third, and France had to settle for fourth. Big deal.

When victory clearly means so little to the team that achieves it, it is surely time to call a halt.

Hitting the French for six, and racking up 40 points in the process, would normally be cause for celebration in anyone's language.

But this was torturous, the sporting equivalent of attending the funeral of someone you don't know and revelling in their grief.

There were a remarkable 62,712 present according to the organisers, but it is debatable how many of them enjoyed this torpid affair.

Daniel Carter hands off Nicolas Brusque - but who cares?
New Zealand's Daniel Carter hands off Nicolas Brusque - but who cares?
The Telstra Stadium, so vibrant for the two semi-finals last weekend, had a strangely muffled hum to it, with referee Chris White's whistle piercing the quiet.

A limp attempt at a Mexican wave got no further than a quarter of the way around before it petered out, like the match.

Carlos Spencer, to his credit, did his best to liven up proceedings, delving into his extensive box of tricks.

Not all of them came off, but his vision was the source of both the All Blacks' first-half tries - and he continued to bring variety to an otherwise spiceless occasion.

The likes of Doug Howlett and Richie McCaw also continued to give it their all, but shattered wing Joe Rokocoko summed up the prevailing mood.

Early on it looked like his ponderous performance against Australia had shredded his confidence.

He was strangely reluctant to take on French flanker Patrick Tabacco on the outside when open space loomed ahead.

And even when he briefly raised a gallop with a burst of acceleration for his try, he sank to his knees as if even the effort of touching down had sapped his strength.

One Frenchman who did appear fired by the occasion though was Sebastian Chabal.

The abrasive flanker put in a series of shuddering hits, Howlett and Aaron Mauger feeling the full force of his aggression.

Dmitri Yachvili also took the opportunity to demonstrate that in the wake of Fabien Galthie's retirement, France are still blessed with at least one quality scrum-half.

If there was no reason for the slightest joie de vivre on French faces, there were precious few smiles on All Black faces either

Both sides at least raised the intensity slightly in the second half, but, up in his coach's box, France coach Bernard Laporte looked like a man who would rather be anywhere else.

He tried to shake up his side with a raft of replacements, but it appeared only to make them even more disorientated and dishevelled.

If there was no reason for the slightest joie de vivre on French faces, there were precious few smiles on All Black faces either.

At the final whistle they went through the motions of saluting their long-suffering supporters.

But while his team-mates headed for the sanctuary of the dressing-room, poor Reuben Thorne had to wait around for the requisite television interviews, prolonging the agony.

And then he took his lonely walk back to the dressing-room, to the sound of Crowded House's 'Don't Dream It's Over' cruelly ringing in his ears.

But it was over for both teams last weekend. They didn't need this, and nor did we.





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Undercover down under
18 Nov 03  |  Rugby World Cup


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