The Glory of '95: What France would give for an extra inch in 1995 semi-final
Well that’s not quite what he said in the aftermath of France’s historic series triumph in New Zealand in 1994. Saint-Andre called it “contre-attaque de la fin du monde” (a counter-attack from the end of the world). “Try from the end of the world” as it’s now known, sounds more succinct and sexier.
Saint-Andre revised it that way when he spoke to the Daily Mail in 2017 about the last time the All Blacks were defeated at Eden Park - July 3, 1994 - thanks to a move he started. Since then New Zealand have gone unbeaten in 43 matches there - only the 1994 Springboks and the 2017 British and Irish Lions have managed draws at the largest sports venue in New Zealand.
And to win that match, Saint-Andre and France had to go deep into their bag of magic. It’s worth pointing out, that preceding that two-match series in New Zealand, the French had travelled to Canada and lost against a Canadian side featuring Gareth Reese at flyhalf 18-12 in Ottawa. Also that loss wasn’t one of those games where the French rested a bunch of players, and flew others on to New Zealand. Thirteen of the players who lost to Canada would beat New Zealand in New Zealand a month later.
How very French ...
France had won the first Test in Christchurch 22-8 - a match which also featured a gem of a try by eighthman Philippe Benetton - and were thus chasing history at Eden Park, seeking to become just the fourth team to win a series in New Zealand.
France led for most of the game, the result of Matthew Cooper missing four out of his nine attempts at goal.
Still New Zealand led 20-16 as the match reached the final five minutes. New Zealand flyhalf Stephen Bachop’s clearance kick wasn’t a bad one - it forced Saint-Andre to turn back - the problem for the All Blacks was the chasing of that kick was laxed. Saint-Andre built up a head of steam and then the rest of his teammates charged right on through New Zealand.
It took 28 seconds from the time Saint-Andre caught the ball running back into his own 22 until Jean-Luc Sadourny dotted down at “the other end of the world”. In between there’d been a clearance at the base of a ruck from hooker Jean-Michel Gonzalez, a hip-swivelling dummy from Abdelatif Benazzi that befuddled Jonah Lomu, playing in his second Test, a burst from right wing Emile Ntamack, a switch with loose forward Laurent Cabanne, who switched it the other way to flyhalf Christophe Deylaud and lastly scrum-half Guy Accoceberry’s final pass to Sadourny, which seemed unnecessary if you ignore the fact it would spoil the aesthetics of the whole thing.
France won 23-20. Has a better try been scored at international level? Some argue Gareth Edwards’ effort against the All Blacks in 1973 is the best, but for all the majesty of that score, it wasn’t a true Test match and there wasn’t as much at stake as there was for Sadourny’s effort.
France never quite touched those heights of 1994 in South Africa the following year. They’d started 1995 with a great deal expected of them given their exploits in New Zealand, but finished third in the then Five Nations, losing to Scotland in Paris along the way.
In the World Cup they needed a last minute try in the final Group D match against the Scots to qualify atop the pool, and then two late tries against the Irish in the quarter-final gave the scoreline a semblance of dominance the performance didn’t deserve.
Arguably the semi-final defeat to the Springboks at Kings Park was their best display. To this day Benazzi believes the ball he was carrying in the mud that afternoon had touched the tryline in the 79th minute and five points should have been awarded to France by Derek Bevan - the same referee who blew the whistle in Auckland.
France travelled 80-odd metres to score one of, if not, rugby’s greatest try, but for all the history it made, they’d likely give up one of those metres to have seen Benazzi given an extra inch at Kings Park in 1995.