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Rugby World Cup moments: Sensational France fightback sends New Zealand packing

There have been many memorable moments in Rugby World Cup history and France, hosts of the 2023 edition, have fond memories of the 1999 semi-final with New Zealand.

The 1999 tournament was the first Rugby World Cup to be held in the sport's professional era and also the first to feature 20 teams, expanded from the previous quota of 16.

A total of four automatic qualification places were handed out, with host nation Wales handed one of those alongside the top three teams from the previous World Cup in 1995 - South Africa, New Zealand and France.

While Wales were chosen as hosts, there was a deal struck before the tournament to allow the other unions in the Five Nations Championship (England, France, Ireland and Scotland) to host some matches.

New Zealand, Australia and South Africa had won the first three editions of the World Cup, lifting the trophy in 1987, 1991 and 1995 respectively, but it was the Wallabies who made history by becoming the first country to win the title twice as they overcame France in the 1999 final.

It was the second time Les Bleus had lost in the final, having suffered the same fate to the All Blacks in the inaugural event, but the European outfit did manage to gain some revenge in 1999.

WhatRugby Union World Cup
WhenFriday 8th September - Saturday 28th October 2023
How to watchITV
OddsNew Zealand 5/2, France 3/1, South Africa 9/2, Ireland 5/1, Australia 10/1

Early markers put down

Drawn in Pool B alongside England, Italy and Tonga, New Zealand racked up three victories to go through to the knockout stages as group winners.

The All Blacks scored a whopping 176 points and conceded just 28, beating Tonga 45-9, England 30-16 and Italy 101-3 to show they meant business in their pursuit of a second world crown.

Although not as dominant as New Zealand, France were also a perfect three-from-three in Pool C, overcoming Canada 33-20, Namibia 47-13 and Fiji 28-19 to book their place in the quarter-finals.

The attacking play of Les Bleus received plaudits, as it usually does as they play an expansive style of rugby, but there were defensive frailties that were exposed by lesser nations in the group.

Attack, attack, attack

France always had strong faith in their attack and the flair players once again delivered in the quarter-finals, as they defeated Argentina 47-26 in an enthralling game.

The Pumas were still in the game at the break, trailing 27-20, but an explosive second-half performance helped Les Bleus set up a semi-final showdown with New Zealand.

The All Blacks raced into a 25-3 half-time lead in their last-eight encounter with Scotland before eventually seeing out the game 30-18 at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh.

Redemption for the French

Having lost 29-9 in the 1987 World Cup final to New Zealand, this semi-final presented France with the chance to make amends for that defeat and move just one victory away from lifting the trophy for the first time.

It didn't look like Les Bleus would be getting their revenge, though, as they found themselves 17-10 behind after the opening half at Twickenham Stadium, London.

Jonah Lomu then went over for his second try of the match five minutes after the restart and, when Andrew Mehrtens slotted over the conversion to make it 24-10, all hope seemed lost for the French.

But France failed to give up and they produced a stunning comeback, scoring 33 points to the All Blacks' seven to record a sensational 43-31 victory.

Richard Dourthe, Christophe Dominici, Philippe Bernat-Salles and Christophe Lamaison all crossed the whitewash for the French, while the latter also knocked over four conversions and three penalties.

Heartache quickly follows

Having sent New Zealand packing, France would have had dreams of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup but they would need to get past Australia to see this become a reality.

The Wallabies also had a tough semi-final, as they needed extra-time to beat defending champions South Africa 27-21, but they managed to maintain their high standards in the final.

Australia didn't concede a try in the showpiece, only allowing four penalties from Lamaison, as they ran out comfortable 35-12 winners to etch their name in the history books.

For France, it was another near-miss and they would suffer a similar fate in 2011 when losing 8-7 to New Zealand in the final - the third time they have fallen at the last hurdle.

Les Bleus will be hoping it is fourth time lucky this year when they host the 10th edition of the Rugby World Cup, which starts on 8th September with the hosts facing the All Blacks.

Ranked third in the world and boasting a squad bursting with talent in every department, 3/1 France will fancy their chances of going all the way in front of a raucous home crowd.

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