French fans' hopes dashed

Thousands turned out to cheer on their rugby team.

Story highlights

  • On Sunday morning the French turned out to cheer at fanzones across the country
  • A huge roar went up as the French squad fronted up to the All Blacks' haka
  • The soldiers on duty - bristling with machine guns - were glued to the action
Outside France, nobody gave them a prayer. Les Bleus had coughed and spluttered their way to the Rugby World Cup Final, at which point they were expected to be thrashed buy the red-hot favorites and tournament hosts New Zealand.
But the French fans didn't care. On Sunday morning they turned out to cheer on their team at various fanzones across the country and they almost saw them produce one of the biggest rugby shocks of all time.
They came out in their tens of thousands, many with tricolor facepaint, almost all with red, white and blue flags. There was even the rooster, a seemingly obligatory at every French rugby event, trying to peck at a kiwi - the small, tropical fruit, not one of conspicuous New Zealand fans who was 11,500 miles from home.
For New Zealand, France are the bogey team. Les Bleus were not fancied to win their World Cup games against the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007, but on both occasions they came from behind to knock them out.
They may have failed to impress during this tournament, but the French fans knew that their team had the quality and they were due a good game.
And they delivered it today. A huge roar went up outside the Hotel de Ville as the French squad fronted up to the All Blacks' haka war dance. And in the opening minutes, France took the game to the hosts. This was not going to be the one-way traffic that almost all of the pundits had forecast.
Even when Tony Woodcock crossed over to score for the All Blacks, the fans around me were not concerned. The French were playing confident, flowing rugby, the All Blacks were missing kicks and as the game progressed, the hosts were looking rattled.
The street cleaners paused to lean on their brooms to watch the giant screen. The soldiers on duty - bristling with machine guns - were glued to the action. And when the French captain Thierry Dusautoir scored his second-half try, the chorus of cheers was deafening. It was well and truly game-on.
Sadly for the French, that was all they could muster. The All Blacks just held on for a narrow one point win and the crowds in France disappeared into the afternoon autumnal sunshine.
They had lost the game, but it was almost a moral victory. In the same week that the French government's role in the Libyan conflict was acknowledged as being pivotal, French national pride was restored in the sporting arena.
They stood up and were counted. They contributed to a thrilling world cup final and they showed that they deserved to be there.