A French masterclass: 1999 World Cup semi-final
Throughout our tenures as professional sports fans, we’ve all either heard of or seen teams succeed that were never supposed to even get close. Whether it be a dramatic underdog side or one that many thought were past their prime, everyone has a great story when it comes to unexpected triumphs – and France’s 1999 Rugby World Cup win over New Zealand is right up there with the best of them.
Heading into the end of millennium clash at Twickenham the French weren’t even remotely being talked about as potential winners, despite being one of the four remaining nations in the competition. The All Blacks were, as they are now, the favourites to once again claim the William Webb Ellis Trophy and it was a matter of how many points would they win by.
As you’d expect there was a small glimmer of hope stemming from the French contingent because, after all, anything can happen in sport. Unfortunately it seemed as if another Southern Hemisphere win on English soil was an inevitability after New Zealand ran out to an impressive 24-10 lead.
But then, in one of the most utterly bizarre turnarounds we’ve ever seen, the Europeans charged forward and picked up another 33 points before the game concluded meanwhile the Kiwis could only muster up another seven.
It defied logic and nobody could quite believe what they’d seen, but that didn’t matter. The cocky, overly confident favourites were caught napping by the plucky underdogs and forfeited their shot at becoming World Champions as a result.
It’s a story that had every element you could possibly imagine or want in a rugby match, with Christophe Lamaison stealing the show. Lamaison wasn’t selected to start the contest and only an injury to Thomas Castaignede permitted him to appear, but my word, he made the most of his opportunity.
The fly-half netted four conversions, three penalties and two drop goals in what was as close to a picture perfect Hollywood story as you can get.
Sadly for the French, they went on to lose in the final against the superior Australians. Regardless, New Zealand went into that game with their bags already packed for Cardiff, and in the end it took another 16 years before they’d meet the Ozzies in rugby’s biggest showcase.
Being three-time runner-ups in the RWC is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you possess one of the sport’s all-time greatest victories. So when you hear the stories and tales of the unbeaten All Blacks in years to come, just remember that they’re not invincible.
At least, they weren’t on October 31st 1999.