Defiant France triumphant on emotional night
In the wake of the suicide bombings in Paris, it seemed only fitting that France claimed an emotional 17-5 win over the Classic Eagles in the Plate final on Saturday night.
At least 128 people were killed in six terror attacks across the French capital on Friday, including a double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France during a friendly football match between France and Germany.
The final night of this year’s World Rugby Classic started in a sombre but defiant mood, with a minute’s silence observed at the North Field as the France and United States players lined up alongside each other in a show of solidarity.
Led by Sebastian Bozzi, the team’s captain, France then formed a huddle on the halfway line before performing a rousing rendition of the French national anthem.
Bozzi said emotions were high in the France dressing room following the terror attacks and felt it was important for the players to come together to sing La Marseillaise.
“Today was a big day for us because everyone knows what happened in Paris,” Bozzi said. “It’s not just a problem for Paris, it’s a problem for all of the world.
“Many innocent people died and for us today’s game was very important. It was a very emotional day for the France players; I think we wanted to win even more today.
“La Marseillaise is a symbol for the French people and we felt it was important to sing that song.”
Despite facing a bigger, younger and quicker Classic Eagles, it was France who opened the scoring through Benoît Marfaing in the fifth minute after a free-flowing move down the right wing.
The Classic Eagles responded by building up some serious pressure, forcing France to retreat deep inside their own half, and got their just rewards when Taylor Howden continued his try-laden tournament on 23 minutes to level the score.
It was the Eagles who finished the first half the stronger team, but they found themselves trailing once again soon after the restart when Marfaing added his second try.
In a display of sheer will and bloody-mindedness, France put the game beyond their opponent’s reach in the 51st minute when Jean-Philippe Grandclaude crashed over the line before Laurent Marticorena supplied the conversion.
“The United States are a big, big team,” said Bozzi, whose side beat Italy 24-10 in last year’s Plate final. “They run a lot, they are very fit and are faster, so we had to play some good rugby.”
For Argentina-born Bozzi, Saturday’s Plate final triumph will be his last at the World Rugby Classic, with the former Clermont hooker admitting that “Father Time” had finally caught up with him.
“We are so, so happy to win and I’m happy because it’s my last game today,” said the 44-year-old.
“I will come next year [as part of the coaching staff] if they want to bring me, but I won’t play anymore. I’m just too old!”
The Lions, meanwhile, gained a full measure of revenge against the All Blacks in a repeat of last year’s final with a 22-5 win in Saturday night’s main event.
Tries from Stuart Moffat, the former Scotland wing, Barry Davies, and Ollie Smith were enough, along with a Gareth Bowen penalty goal and Ceri Sweeney conversion, to help the Lions claim their first Classic title since 2008.
Despite not having many household names in their squad, the All Blacks still played with the ferocity associated with the shirt, and probably should have scored more than the five points that Johnny Weston, the scrum half, managed with his try.
However, while this year’s Lions side can run, they can also defend too, and the ferocity of the New Zealand attack, was met in kind by a determined Lions pack.