By STEVE MASCORD
THE coaches went out together on match eve, the team trailing 42-0 got a standing ovation and players from both sides retired to the same dressingroom to share a few beers at fulltime.
On the surface, New Zealand’s 48-0 win over France at Avignon’s Parc des Sports was a lowpoint for the week-old Rugby League World Cup. It was only the second time a ‘big three’ nation had met a second-tier country the result was woefully once sided.
Except for one thing: the 17,518 crowd didn’t seem to care. No-one left until fulltime, the chant of “Alez Le Bleus” was hardly interupted by the flood of Kiwi points (Shaun Johnson scored 24) and when the ground announcer asked for some support near fulltime, the locals stood and loudly applauded.
“I coached Stephen Kearney at Hull; we decided to go out for a quiet beer the night before the game,” France coach Richard Agar told Fairfax Media.
“I took some members of my staff, he brought some of his. And we decided that whoever won tonight would go to the other team’s dressingroom at fulltime.
“They came and shared a beer and a sandwich …. and a bit of a dance. I came back from the press conference straight into what I though was a nightclub
“But a very smelly one full of naked blokes.”
New Zealand captain Simon Mannering said socialising post match was something the NRL had lamentably lost.
“It brings back memories from the old days,” a smiling Mannering said after leaving the French sheds.
“Unfortunately in the professional game we sort of miss out on that now. As a player, I definitely think its a bit sad that we don’t do it anymore.
“It was a really physical battle out there and it was nice to go down there and share a beer. It’s pretty special to come to this part of the world and get the reception we have.”
On the field, the Kiwis showed the sort of killer instinct that was so sadly lacking in the second half against Samoa
Man of the match Johnson and interchange forward Frank Paul Nuausala each posted try braces while hooker Issac Luke tendered arguably his greatest performance for the Kiwis.
It was enough for Agar, the Wakefield coach, to say New Zealand was on track to retain the World Cup, although he stopped just short of saying the outcome was inevitable.
Crossfield kicks laid on the first two NZ tries before South Sydney’s Luke put Sydney Roosters’ Nuausala over just short of the break.
It was another 10 minutes after the resumption of play before the Kiwis scored again, Luke bumping and spinning brilliantly out of dummy half and finding Johnson in support – and then then floodgates opened.
But even with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck scoring on the bell with his club coach Trent Robinson looking on, the crowd refused to be subdued. “At fulltime, the French commentators came over to me and handed me a glass of wine,” said Australian commentator Andrew Voss.
“Can you imagine that happening in Sydney?”
With Sonny Bill Williams rested, Kearney said he was pleased with a number of performers and that there was a healthy level of competition for spots.
“Ben Matulino really showed what he was capable of tonight,” said Kearney, who described the match as “a wonderful occasion for our game”.
“Frank Paul Nuausala played well. There were some guys who made the decision for us really difficult.”
NEW ZEALAND 48 (Frank Paul Nuausala 2, Shaun Johnson 2. Krisnan Inu, Bryson Goodwin, Geeg Eastwood, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Johnson 8 goals) bt FRANCE 0 at Parc des Sports, Avignon. Referee: Phil Bentham (England\. Crowd: 17,518.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD