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Kiwis in Mourning


Apologies for disappearing on the rugby beat. My D.C. United responsibilities made rugby a tough thing to follow. But I got two e-mails that are definitely worth passing along. New Zealand, massive pre-tournament favorites, went down to France in the quarterfinals, fulfilling all the talk of choking Kiwis that makes certain segments of the rugby world so happy. The first e-mail is from the New Zealand Embassy, where I was supposed to watch the RWC semifinals.

Due to New Zealand's heartbreaking loss to France in the Rugby World Cup, the Embassy is in mourning, and must regrettably cancel its planned October 13 and October 20 rugby screenings. During this sad and difficult time, we ask that you respect the Embassy's grieving process.

We have been reliably informed that life after rugby does go on, but we are not yet ready to believe that proposition.

Wow. That gets to you. I picked South Africa to win the RWC, but I can't help but feel for the Kiwis when I read something like that. This next one is even worse. It's from Olympic Kiwi Curler, former Toronto Blue Jays employee and official D.C. Sports Bog New Zealand Correspondent Hans Frauenlob. His thoughts about the shocking upset are after the jump. In the meantime, does anyone know of any watch parties at the French or Argentine embassies?

I can now truly say that I know what it feels like to be a Red Sox fan.

The All Blacks are out of the World Cup. Again. Again, the nation collectively staggers in wounded disbelief.

Six hours have passed since the end of the game that ended the nation's hopes of finally hoisting the Webb Ellis Trophy again. The response has been swift and predictable. Again, a nation is grieving. Some blame the refereeing, others say we were overconfident, others say the game plan was one-dimensional....but the bottom line is, we were beaten by a better team on the day who played with more passion and commitment.

The morning started well in our house. The game kicked off at 8am New Zealand time - a civilised hour, and we were all settled in for a great game of rugby, and a leisurely family brunch afterwards.

The game started well. The French stared down the haka and the game started with brutal physicality.

I was looking for the ABs to start the match with the whirlwind pace and fury that they showed in the first 20 minutes of their pool match against Italy. It was quickly apparent that the game was not going to be played that way. French coach Laporte indicated during the week that he was picking a team with good kickers and would kick for territory, and so it proved to be. It was looking like an Aussie Rules game, as the fullbacks ping-ponged the ball through the air in each other's direction. The All Blacks definitely had the best of the possession and territory, and two penalties and a Luke McAllister try saw the All Blacks up 13-0.

However, it didn't feel convincing - we were not dominating in the scrum, although lineout play was really good. Ali Williams had as good a game as I've ever seen him play contesting the lineout.

I was worried about how we were (or weren't) attacking the ruck at the breakdown like we had in other games. The ref was quite pedantic but we weren't clearing out and setting a platform for quick ball. We were, however, recycling possession safely - we were starting to look like the England team in 2003. Boring but safe rugby.

Very late in the first half, we gave away a nothing offside penalty, and the French landed the penalty kick. All of a sudden, it's halftime and we're only up 10 points.

You couldn't help thinking about 1999, when the All Blacks were up 14-0, before getting overrun by the French 41-31 - the last time we lost to France.

At the start of the second half, I was hoping for the All Blacks to go up a gear. Then - again, shades of 1999, all of a sudden a poor pass goes to ground, a French toe kicks it through, and the All Blacks are going backwards.

The penalty count mounts against New Zealand. The French kick another one. 13-6. At this point, I am getting a decidedly uneasy feeling in my gut.

Then a kick through, and a really brutal refereeing decision sends McAllister to the sin bin for 10 minutes. Down a man, the All Blacks soak up the first five minutes of the penalty, but eventually concede territory and outnumbered, give up a try that levels the score at 13. Uh oh. Big Mo has definitely gone to the other guys.

The ABs gut their way back up the field, but injury takes Dan Carter out of the game, and Jerry Collins would later join him. The All Blacks score an ugly but welcome try, but the kick is missed. 18-13. It's going to be a grinding finish.

Then the dagger to the heart. Some quick French ball, a blatant forward pass to substitute sparkplug Michilak, a great run by him and a great inside offload - try France, under the sticks, easy conversion - 20-18 France.

The All Blacks have a couple of opportunities deep in French territory, but can't convert the territory into the three points they need for victory. One final turnover, a kick to touch, and it's over.

At the beginning of the tournament, I picked our guys to win. I still think we have the best team, but we can't seem to win the big game. We need to shake the label of chokers. The rugby world is now screaming that label at the All Blacks.

Unfortunately, it will be another four years before we get a chance to shake that label. At least the next World Cup will be here - if home field advantage is worth three points we'll take it.

We did have the leisurely family brunch - but it didn't taste that great.

Oh, and the Aussies lost to the Poms. Go figure.

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 9, 2007; 10:26 AM ET
Categories:  Rugby  
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