Southland-born Lynn McConnell is a sportswriter/historian with 40 years experience in journalism having been sports editor of The Evening Post and The Southland Times. Lynn has written several books including 'Behind the Silver Fern: Playing Rugby for New Zealand' together with Tony Johnson.Read more exclusive columns
French Memories: The 1986 Baby Blacks
Lynn McConnell 02 Jun 2018 Getty Images
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A one-off Test commitment against France had to be fulfilled during the time of the players' ban and a nearly new All Blacks team - only four players, David Kirk, John Kirwan, Arthur Stone and Brian McGrattan had played Tests - was selected to take on the might of a French team overloaded with class.
Kirk, along with Kirwan the only players not to tour South Africa, was named captain of the side and rather than look to the assignment with trepidation he recalled the buzz and excitement around the Test.
"I recall some scepticism from all the old heads that there was no way 'these young guys' could win. They were a great French team and they would crush us in the set pieces was the feeling at large.
Kirwan recalled in Behind the Silver Fern the side never doubted it could win.
"We had a simple game plan about putting them on their arses, making them go backwards and hurting them, and we picked the team accordingly. New Zealanders are great when they've got their backs to the wall and it was a moment in time where the boys had chosen to go to Africa and the boys who stayed behind said, 'You're not going to get your All Blacks jersey back'. A lot of us went into the game with that sort of attitude," he said.
The man charged with making something out of the situation was coach Brian Lochore. The players remarked afterwards on the serenity Lochore presented ahead of the Test.
EPIC RIVALRY! One of the All Blacks greatest rivalries will reignite in 7? days when the #SteinlagerSeries begins against France. ????????France came to New Zealand from Argentina where there had been, not untypically, some turmoil in their camp.
Get your tickets to watch history unfold between two of rugby's most respected opponents. ???: https://t.co/jJvZEf9vhK pic.twitter.com/0VkeXTTKww— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) June 1, 2018
Future All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick made his Test debut in the game, coming in at a late stage when first choice hooker Bruce Hemara broke his ribs at training.
"I remember the ball being kicked off by Greg Cooper. It was like 'I'm finally an All Black' because my feeling was I wasn't really an All Black until the ball was kicked off. Every scrum was like a washing machine. We got absolutely pummelled but Boro [Kevin Boroevich] and Gratts [McGrattan] would get back up and we'd go again," he said.
Centre Joe Stanley created havoc among the French outside backs catching them behind the advantage line before they could get their trademark passing game into action.
Kirk realised after about the first quarter that the French weren't playing well.
"It didn't feel like they were playing at their most aggressive, or most effective, which was a little bit of a relief. It did feel like we were able to play the sort of game we talked about," he said.
While the scrum was under pressure they had players who were able to cope.
"We hung in there and took our opportunities and scored a good try. In a way it was opportunist with a chip ahead, a regather and a couple of passes and a try. It was a good try from not a lot out of the mid-field, but they didn't look like scoring," Kirk said.
?? Break out the popcorn! All or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks is now available to stream on @PrimeVideo! ??Brewer scored the try which came from a kick hoisted by first five-eighths Frano Botica, who kicked two dropped goals in the game, which was taken by a leaping Kirwan. His inside pass found flanker Brett Harvey and he found Brewer inside with enough momentum to drive over the line to score the only try of the game.
WATCH: https://t.co/If6hiwT3xa pic.twitter.com/M2Di9kMu6o— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) June 1, 2018
Cooper, who converted the try and landed a penalty goal also added a third dropped goal, the All Blacks' first points after a scrum penalty.
"In those days you could stand right by the halfback, I got as close as I could. Kirky tapped it and I got the ball in my hands as fast as I could and was ready to kick. When I hit it, I knew…it was one of the better drop kicks I'd ever done," Cooper said.
France's points all came from dropped goals to first five-eighths Jean-Patrick Lescaboura.
Kirwan summed up the effort: "When you play for the All Blacks you never go on the field doubting that you are going to win. We have a fear of losing, but never an inferiority complex. I was pleased for a lot of the guys who played that day. It's a moment in history we shouldn't forget because of what we came through. Rugby was in real trouble in those years and the Baby Blacks were very important for the country."
The Baby Blacks played only one other Test, a week later against Australia, losing 12-13 at Athletic Park in Wellington.
It has become fashionable to refer to age grade sides as the Baby Blacks, but as history showed there was only one All Blacks side truly worthy of the title.
The Baby Blacks team which played France was: 1.Brian McGrattan, 2.Sean Fitzpatrick, 3.Kevin Boroevich, 4.Andy Earl, 5.Gordon MacPherson, 6.Brett Harvey, 7.Mark Brooke-Cowden, 8.Mike Brewer, 9.David Kirk (captain), 10.Frano Botica, 11.Terry Wright, 12.Arthur Stone, 13.Joe Stanley, 14.John Kirwan, 15.Greg Cooper.
Reserves: 16.Iain Abercrombie, 17.Murray Davie, 18.Brent Anderson, 19.Dean Kenny, 20.Marty Berry, 21.Joe Leota.