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Classic matches: The kick that wasn't

Brian Strahan, in a new series on rugby365, takes a look at some classic matches – starting with the 20-all draw between France and Scotland at the 1987 World Cup.

Colin Deans might well have been known as a thrower of precision, but there was something wayward to how the ball sailed deep over the earnest line-out of World Cup debutants. Finlay Calder made light of the feared sticky conditions caused by an ungraceful deluge of overnight rain in Christchurch, the night before Scotland faced France in Lancaster Park.

The open side flank made light of a glut of French defenders encroaching his space as he gathered the loose, glistening ball and with archetypal determination created space for Derek White, a second row with pace. The price was a pulled hamstring. The reward, a lead over France within 90 seconds of the Pool Four opener.

It was just 10 weeks since Parc des Princes saw Scotland fall short in a Five Nations match – by a margin of just two penalties, in a 22-28 away defeat. Scotland though, it was believed, would not run a French side with the likes of Serge Blanco, Philippe Berbizier and Philippe Sella so close again.

Classic matches: The kick that wasn'tIn Paris in March the Scottish were fervent, warrior like at the end.

At the World Cup France would not be drawn into that kind of fight again.

Gavin Hastings, it could be argued, was the complete fullback. However on this clear, azure Saturday he kept his mind focused and built on White's heady opener to kick his countrymen to a 16-6 lead.

However, another lengthy throw-in in the second half, and this time Éric Champ elasticated his fingers to do enough at the tail of the line-out to progress the ball into the hands of French captain Daniel Dubroca – with the aid of a favourable bounce. A coterie of support saw a succession of quick hands off-load to Philippe Sella, who overlapped and owned the corner to restore his side's presence in the game.

A standard five-metre scrum and Berbizier peeled away and a flat footed John Jeffries was sold the dummy. A Blanco conversion and France were on par at 16 points apiece. When Patrice Lagisquet finished off a move of exalted pace and guile, in stepped a touch judge not unfamiliar with Northern Hemisphere rugby.

Tom Doocey was the first antipodean to officiate in a Five Nations. In 1983 he oversaw Scotland defeat England 22-12, in a game also underscored by a late try. The pioneer though had a big call to make as Lagisquet crashed into the corner flag. But not, in hindsight, before grounding correctly.

France's luck though had not dissipated. In a moment of lucid thinking, with Scotland distracted, Serge Blanco found himself with a plethora of space and time and with ease slid under the posts; the elementary conversion leaving France 20-16 ahead and in all likelihood avoiding a meeting with New Zealand in the quarterfinals.

Classic matches: The kick that wasn'tBut resilience paid off. Scotland pressed and vigorous pack-work and interplay saw Matt Duncan skim along the perimeter and touch down to equalise.

Gavin Hastings had the opportunity to ensure victory, but his kick slipped wide and left.

In a group containing tournament invitees Romania and Zimbabwe, the likelihood of both teams progressing had an inevitability that only politeness could deny. The real prize of finishing first though was avoiding New Zealand. And a superior points difference ensured France succeeded in doing just that. However a Fijian side that put Argentina to the sword made rugby take notice and gave France a game in the quarterfinals.

Scotland would return to Lancaster again in the quarterfinals against the host nation. Scottish captain Deans and his pack faced a scrum, which Deans would say afterwards was the best he had played against.

New Zealand did their homework though. Brian Lochore had his pack perfect their scrummaging, not content with their showing in the pool victory against Argentina in Wellington. On the Wednesday before the game, they scrummed 70 times against teammates. It was a physical preparation that comes with the territory, in the territory. Scotland felt the effects. A firm win on hard ground on an overcast, cool day.

By Brian Strahan

Guest columnist

@rugby365com

 

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