France – New Zealand autumn 2018

We drove all the way to Toulon and Grenoble to watch these two Autumn Internationals. Normally we watch a men’s international but we decided to go to the two France – New Zealand tests that the women played this autumn. I think it is a great next step that the Autumn Internationals now start to include a women international too.

Setting the scene

New Zealand of course are the current world champions with that memorable second half in Ireland. In that final they made a great comeback to beat England showing great resilience and character. How is the team progressing? Bleeding new players?

France won the Six Nations in a clean sweep and will defend that title next year. They missed in the final of the World Cup, how will they measure up to the Kiwi’s? Playing two internationals as a preparation against NZLD is a great idea, I like that way of thinking.

The women’s competiton in France is growing in popularity rapidly, the style of play reminding the supporters of men’s rugby of the nineties when not everything was about being bigger and harder.

The French rugby fans we know are (just) a bit chauvinistic but love the All Blacks, how would this pan out in Toulon en Grenoble? After all, if you want a lesson in home advantage you go to France!

Unfortunately, with the intensity of the WSWS growing, both countries included just a few 7s stars in the team.

Toulon, first test

A rainy day made for very slippery conditions and a soft pitch, it was clear France was there to win the game! NZLD had great difficulty in the scrum and in dealing with the high line-speed in defense. Only successful in the pick & go where their big players were dominant.

With 0 – 0 at half time I expected the instructions of the NZLD coaches would be to “Pick & Go” until we score” and the team did not disappoint me. France had changes but where not patient enough and kicked away too much possession.

NZLD won a hard fought battle, France felt they deserved more, referee Sara Cox had a good game with some difficult decisions to make that did no go well at all with the French supporters!

Grenoble, second test

What would the two coaching staffs do the upcoming week? We drove up the scenic Route Napoleon to Grenoble to watch some of the training sessions of the New Zealand team. Did they fix the problems of the first test? Some hard work was done, not sure if their training was specific enough.

The second test was the same story, the France scrum was far more stronger but it was Linda Itunu who recovered some of the loose balls at the back of the scrum (amazing skills). The French had done their homework, improved on the defense of the pick & go but most of all started playing the phases and found and exploited the mismatches and outplayed the big front row players from down under.

So one all – but France felt they were the winner, beating New Zealand for the first time.

What is next?

France will go into the Six Nations with renewed confidence. New Zealand Women’s rugby needs to step up, with senior players like Fiao’o Faamausili and Linda Itunu ending their careers the new batch needs to step up to compete at the new level.

In one way the tour was a lost opportunity because it was a farewell to the old guard and not the first opportunity for the new recruits. But I love that the veterans were given this opportunity to play for a 17.000 rugby mad crowd and had a fantastic game. Now that fifteens in rugby is also contracted full-time sport, they deserved to have this farewell.

Want photo’s?

Please go to the website of our co-driver and fantastic professional rugby photographer Yvette Gito her website here!