Monday, December 10, 2012

The Curse Of The French

All Black fan Tim Cronin from RugbyShirts.net isn’t happy looking ahead to the RWC2015 pools and is already pondering the quarterfinal opposition…

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Following the initial World Cup Pool draw last week there was much discussion about the ‘Pool of Death’, and, to be fair, All Blacks’ fans couldn’t really complain about the group we’d been given. But one thing did strike fear in to the most ardent supporter of the men in black, and that’s the possibility of a date with the French in the Quarter Finals.

Most rugby fans around the globe know that the French have foiled the All Blacks on more than one occasion at the World Cup, but I don’t know if those outside New Zealand really appreciate the emotional baggage those defeats have left us with. I also don’t know if rugby followers from outside Aotearoa understand what’s really behind this inherent dread of the French Rugby team, so I’m going to relay a story to you which isn’t widely known.

In 1987 David Kirk led his young All Blacks side to victory in the inaugural World Cup, beating the French in the final at Eden Park. In true French tradition they had played their final the week before, sensationally upsetting the Wallabies in Australia, and, while the final was an intense affair, they never really looked like lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy.

A few weeks later, when the dust had settled and the French had returned home, several key players had a very important, very secret meeting. In the seedy area of Saint Denis, (where the Stade De France now appropriately sits), Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella and Pierre Berbizier meet on a dark, rainy Parisian night.

Joining them was a strange figure hailing from Bugarach, a small town in the South-West of France renowned for its claim that it will be the only location in the world left standing following the impending apocalypse. This cloaked figure was a witch-doctor of sorts, carrying a worn leather bag in his gnarled hands and dragging an iron cauldron with him.

Speaking in hushed tones (as I’m writing this I’m using those ‘Allo ‘Allo accents in my head, for those of you who want to really paint the picture as I’m relaying this tale) they explained to the Witch Doctor that they wanted to put a curse on the All Blacks, making it virtually impossible for them to defeat the French in the World Cup.

Reaching in to his bag he selected an array of bottles and jars, and began pouring ingredients in to his cauldron until a bubbly, frothing mass was boiling away. But, just as the concoction was nearly finished Pierre Berbizier interrupted proceedings. “Wait”, he said, again strangely employing the voice of Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo. “One more thing, which will make it all the more painful for those swines in Black… in all our matches leading up to our meeting with New Zealand we shall exhibit no skill or form whatsoever. We will perform so poorly in our lead-up matches, and look so out of touch in group play, that they will be lulled in to a false sense of security each and every time they play us!”

As rapturous, cackling laughter engulfed the darkened alley in which they stood the Witch Doctor finished the spell, adding the necessary potions which would make Berbizier’s dastardly final touch a reality, and the rest, as they say, is history. No matter how poor the French look leading up to a World Cup, or how badly they perform in their group games, they grow another leg when they play the All Blacks in the knock-out rounds, and for some reason, each and every time we struggle against them, we are left stunned and bewildered.

As the clock ticked down at Eden Park in last year’s World Cup final a horrible hush settled around the bar where I was watching the match, surrounded by 100-odd friends, all clad in black. With ten minutes to go, leading by just a point and with the French pouring endless pressure on us, all of a sudden those around me came to the realisation that we might, in fact, quite probably would, be foiled yet again by a side which had battled to even make this date with us.

Indeed, I believe there came a point where the majority of those around me were resigned to the fact that the French would score in the dying seconds and thwart us yet again. The spell is unquestionably a powerful one. We might have prevailed last year, but we still essentially choked, and were it not for a gutsy, brave performance we would have again lost to the French, as we did in ’99 and ’07.

France will inevitably be poor during Pool play in 2015. The Irish have every chance of beating them and winning the pool, and even if the French do come out on top in that clash they’re likely to get tipped over by Italy! Taking an unabashed ‘glass is half empty’ view on things I think Ireland will win the group, and the All Blacks will indeed face the French in the first round of knock-out matches, the very thought of which will have this small, rugby-mad nation biting its finger nails for months before the tournament even begins!

Tim Cronin is a Rugby fan and full time writer based in the rubble of the Canterbury Crusaders’ home town, Christchurch. Tim is a part of the Pukeko Sportsteam, where his role is watching, writing, and complaining about all things rugby.

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