13 Oct 2015

History can't repeat itself, can it?

11:58 am on 13 October 2015

OPINION: Jamie Wall braces himself for the All Blacks-France quarter-final - and tries to move on from that famous 2007 forward pass.

Chris Jack consoles Byron Kelleher after the All Blacks' quarter-final loss to France in Cardiff, 2007

Chris Jack consoles Byron Kelleher after the All Blacks' quarter-final loss to France in Cardiff, 2007 Photo: Photosport

Grey jerseys. Forward passes. Dan Carter's calf muscle. Wayne freakin' Barnes.

For All Black fans, all of the above conjures up that feeling you get when you think of that dodgy chicken dish you never should have eaten.

Except this was worse than spending a few uncomfortable days in the bathroom. This was about looking down the barrel of a four-year sentence in which the All Blacks once again wouldn't be world champions.

When the All Blacks run out to face the French again at Millennium Stadium, it'll be exactly eight years and 12 days since that morning in 2007 we'd rather forget. But that was an awful long time ago. History can't repeat itself, can it?

Let's work our way forward from 2007 and analyse what's happened between these two teams since then.

First off, France have only beaten us once in all that time.

In 2009 they pulled off a pretty impressive 27-22 win at Carisbrook, but that was so long ago that even the stadium is now nothing more than a pile of rubble and some bittersweet memories.

Contrast that to the eight victories we've enjoyed over France since - including a World Cup final. The last win was part of the All Blacks perfect 2013 season.

Remember rest and rotation? The two 'R' words ended up a bitter punchline in the latter stages of the last decade after the 2007 All Black squad ended up sitting out most of Super Rugby to give themselves the time they needed to prepare for the World Cup.

But it seems either people have come around to the rest and rotation idea, or the side's PR has improved, because they've done more or less the same thing this year and no one batted an eyelid.

Two key players remain from the 2007 quarter-final and they're the first-fives. Dan Carter (and presumably that very same calf muscle that forced him off the field back then) will square off against Freddie Michalak. Both will undoubtedly have very different memories of the last time they met in Cardiff.

France celebrate as the All Blacks look on after the World Cup loss in 2007 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Saturday 6 October 2007. France won the match 20-18. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/PHOTOSPORT

France celebrate as the All Blacks look on after the World Cup loss in 2007 in Cardiff Photo: Photosport

The sight of Carter crying in the stands knowing his team were going to lose was about as bad a sight as All Blacks fans have ever seen.

At the same time, Michalak was probably still wondering how he got away with catching the most famous (and most obvious) forward pass in rugby history.

Since then, Carter has gone on to become international and Super Rugby's all-time leading points scorer, the IRB player of the year and even managed to find time to squeeze in a career as an underwear model.

The laid-back Michalak, by comparison, has had a typically French relationship with the national selectors.

He took off to play two stints at the Sharks in Super Rugby after finding himself unwanted after the World Cup, then found himself back in favour in 2012, after playing halfback for Toulon. He's managed to rack up 76 Tests in a 15-year career to Carter's 109 in just under 12.

Of course, there's one guy who has clearly lifted his game over the last eight years. Mr Wayne Barnes of England, one of the most derided figures of All Blacks fans everywhere, has managed to forge himself a career as (I can't believe I'm saying this) a pretty good ref.

The only really notable moment he's been involved in (since he appeared to shut his eyes during that forward pass) was in 2013, when England's Rotorua-born hooker and all-round scumbag Dylan Hartley called him a cheat during the English Premiership final. Barnes sent him off and Hartley got an 11-week ban.

So plenty has changed since 2007. In the meantime, we've seen iPhones take over our lives, the prophesied Mayan end of the world has been and gone without incident and Kanye West has soared from mere musical genius to possible Presidential candidate.

Let's hope this Sunday morning isn't anywhere near as ridiculous, and we can just enjoy a comfortable All Blacks victory.

Test matches between the All Blacks and France, since the 2007 quarter final:

  • 9 November 2013, Paris: 26-19 All Blacks
  • 22 June 2013, New Plymouth: 24-9 All Blacks
  • 15 June 2013, Christchurch: 30-0 All Blacks
  • 8 June 2013, Auckland: 23-13 All Blacks
  • 23 October 2011, Auckland: 8-7 All Blacks (RWC final)
  • 24 September 2011, Auckland: 37-17 All Blacks (RWC)
  • 28 November 2009, Marseille: 39-12 All Blacks
  • 20 June 2009, Wellington: 14-10 All Blacks
  • 13 June 2009, Dunedin: 27-22 France
  • 6 October 2007, Cardiff: 20-18 France

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