The French rugby team are in New Zealand for a series of three test matches, played at Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. The first match last week was a resounding 52-11 victory for the All Blacks, despite not having played together as a team since last year’s Rugby Championship. Some say the match was gifted to the All Blacks by the second-half sin-binning of the French lock for a high tackle. The ABs scored two tries whilst he was in the bin, but then ran in a further five more for an eight try haul overall.
We had tickets for the Wellington game, where France were expected to try and show up a bit more than they had in the first test. We’d planned to dine at the stadium, as they have recently sacked their old caterers, who were of the cheap pie and chips type, for something a bit more upmarket, in keeping with Wellington’s reputation as the foodie centre of New Zealand. This is a trend that is being seen in stadia around the world, with the public demanding a better quality food experience when they go to see big matches. As part of this, the Piri Burger was announced, designed by former All Black Piri Weepu – the man who almost singlehandedly won the quarter final against Argentina in the 2011 World Cup, thus setting up New Zealand’s win in that competition. As we were queuing for the burgers, a man asked if we had a voucher for a free burger, and promptly handed us one. Wait, was that…? Yes, it was! Piri was helping out at the burger stand, and posing for selfies as well. We’d already acquired one free burger voucher, so we got our burgers for free, and a picture to boot.
We took our seats up in the nosebleed section behind the posts, and settled in for an exciting encounter. As in the previous week, a slow start from the ABs resulted in France opening the scoring with a penalty. Then, disaster struck! Beauden Barrett leapt high to catch the ball, and was dangerously impeded by a French player, landed badly, and was taken off. The French player was sent off for dangerous play, so France were down to 14 men after only 11 minutes. You’d think that this would mean the ABs would romp home, but some lacklustre play, a lot of handling errors, and failure to capitalise on the reduced French team meant that at half time, whilst they were ahead 21-6, they weren’t really demonstrating the dominance that you’d expect. The French team weren’t giving up, and were turning over the ball far more frequently than they should have been allowed to. In the second half the ABs only added one more try, and missed the conversion, whilst the French, in the 81st minute, ran one in themselves, to give a final score 26-13.
The All Blacks have won the series, and recorded another win over France, but they’ll have some soul-searching to do before the final match in Dunedin. This wasn’t the thriller we’d expected from them, so I hope they’ve got their act back together by next Saturday.