Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 20 News List

RUGBY WORLD CUP: France look to tear down walls of All Blacks fortress

AFP, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

The All Blacks listen to their national anthem before the start of their semi-final match against Australia at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, last Sunday.

Photo: AFP

There is home advantage and then there is Eden Park, the venue for today’s World Cup final between New Zealand and France.

Since the ground staged its first Test match in 1921, New Zealand have played 70 internationals at the Auckland ground, winning 58, drawing two and losing just 10.

And since an 18-18 draw with South Africa in 1994, the All Blacks have won 26 straight matches there, a run coinciding with the advent of rugby union’s professional era.

Only last month, New Zealand beat France 37-17 at Eden Park in a World Cup pool match, with the 20-point margin of victory — a sizable gap in rugby terms, but about average when it comes to modern All Black wins at the venue.

Yet Eden Park lacks the characteristics associated with many other rugby grounds.

There were more fans watching Wales’s semi-final loss to France on giant screens at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff than the 58,630 who saw the game live at Eden Park, where capacity has been boosted to 60,000 for the World Cup.

There is not as much noise as at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road. Nor is the wintry climate that led to Dunedin’s Carisbrook stadium, in New Zealand’s South Island, being dubbed the “House of Pain,” much of an issue.

Yet former Wales international Scott Quinnell is in no doubt about the difficulty visiting teams face at Eden Park.

“It’s the hardest place to play on Earth. Facing the All Blacks in Auckland is the ultimate test,” he said.

The ground’s history dates back to the early years of the 20th Century, with Auckland’s Kingsland Cricket Club renting land close to Sandringham Road, which runs past the modern Eden Park, from 1900-1910.

Shortly afterward, Eden Cricket Club purchased about 6 hectares on the same site and went on to build Eden Park.

The All Blacks are overwhelming favorites to beat France today in what is a repeat of the inaugural 1987 World Cup final, also held at Eden Park, which saw New Zealand triumph 29-9.

However, two of the greatest victories in French rugby history have also taken place at the ground.

In 1979, France marked Bastille Day, July 14, with a 24-19 win over the All Blacks for their first victory on New Zealand soil.

And in 1994, they became the last away side to triumph at Eden Park, winning 23-20 thanks to a sensational late score from Jean-Luc Sadourny that became known as the “try from the end of the world.”

Emile Ntamack, who played for France in that match and is now helping to prepare the current squad for the final as an assistant coach, said there was no magic formula for beating New Zealand.

“To win against the All Blacks, you must put them under pressure every minute everywhere. I don’t know another solution,” he said.

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