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Billy Stickland/INPHO Muliaina congratulates Luke McAlister after a try early in the game.
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'I didn't want to return to New Zealand' - Mils Muliaina on losing THAT game to France in 2007
The spectacular upset loss in the World Cup quarter-final was tough to stomach for Muliaina.

IT HAS BEEN almost eight years since the All Blacks suffered their most devastating World Cup defeat and even though they partly buried their loss to France in Cardiff by beating the same opposition in the final four years later, the quarter-final upset is still painful for those involved.

Mils Muliaina was at the peak of his powers in 2007 and played at 13 in the Millenium stadium that day. Inside him were Byron Kelleher, Dan Carter and Luke McAlister. Outside him were Sitiveni Sivivatu, Joe Rokocoko and Leon MacDonald.

You couldn’t ask for a more talented backline.

Oh, and the pack had legends like Richie McCaw and Jerry Collins too.

Their coaching staff? It wasn’t bad – just Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen.

And I suppose you could say the team had experience, just the three straight Tri Nations titles and a 3-0 Lions test series win on their CV.

That is why when they were drawn to face France in Cardiff – a French side who had lost their opening game to Argentina – nobody expected them to lose. Nobody.

The story goes that there were grown men crying on the streets of Cardiff after the upset defeat, not just because the All Blacks lost but because many fans had started their trip in Cardiff with the expectation of a triumphant march into Paris like a rider on the verge of winning the Tour de France.

The game started just like everybody thought it would, with a piece of All Blacks brilliance. Carter sucks in two defenders, McAlister picks a gorgeous line before exchanging a one-two with the rampaging Collins. Majestic.

MottiRugby / YouTube

But France stuck around and the longer the game went on the more the All Blacks began to panic. Carter got injured, Yannick Jauzion scored this try (Wayne Barnes missed a blatant forward pass from Traille to Michalak in the build-up) and McAlister ended up mangling a last-ditch attempt at a drop goal.

MottiRugby / YouTube

Muliaina is the player you can see diving after Jauzion and he spoke to The42 about his memories of the game.

“It was surreal afterwards,” Muliaina said.

“The dressing room was silent – you could hear a pin drop. It was only a few days later that the realisation hit you that your tournament was over. It was like you were in a dream, only this was actually more of a nightmare.”

Muliaina said that not only was the defeat crushing for the young guys but that he felt particularly bad for players like Anton Oliver, Leon MacDonald and Rodney So’oialo who he knew were unlikely to be around four years later.

mils Mils Muliaina, Connacht Rugby star and Official Mazda Car Ambassador, is pictured with some of the young rugby fans at the Mazda Rugby Roadshow in Fota Island Resort, Cork on Sunday 8th February. Connacht players Mils Muliaina, John Muldoon and Jake Heenan took children from local rugby clubs through their paces at the Mazda-run family event. Adults also experienced test-drives in Mazda’s range of sixth generation SKYACTIV models including, the Mazda 3,the award winning Mazda 6 and CX-5 and not forgetting the world’s favourite roadster, the MX-5.

The New Zealand public were pretty unforgiving in the aftermath too. The general consensus was that the team had bottled it big time and most people wanted coach Graham Henry to step aside. The backlash from fans was not something Muliaina looked forward to at the time.

“I didn’t even want to go back to New Zealand afterwards because I knew what the reaction would be like,” Muliaina said.

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“And had we lost in 2011 I would have booked a one-way ticket and got out of there. New Zealand is a bit of a fishbowl because there are only four million people and rugby is ingrained into us.”

Of course, New Zealand didn’t lose in 2011 although at times in that final they tried their best. Beating France made it all the sweeter and Muliaina says that the All Blacks have worked hard on the mental side of the game in recent years in order to avert any potential upsets like the one in 2007.

“We have done a lot of work on dealing with expectations in recent years,” Muliaina said.

“As an All Black you are expected to win every game no matter who you are playing. Sometimes wins against the smaller teams are critiqued even more than a close loss to a strong side. I think the All Blacks have embraced expectations over the last few years.”

Despite being the fulcrum of the All Blacks side for over ten years, Dan Carter has never really shone at a World Cup. Injury robbed him of the chance to win it in 2011 and now with the emergence of Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, Carter’s place in the team is no longer automatic.

Muliaina went through something similar in the build-up to 2011 as Israel Dagg began to get more starts at fullback. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Carter his former team-mate still believes he will be the man chosen to lead the backline in England this autumn.

“It can be hard at times [to watch younger players come in for you],” Muliaina said.

“With DC, he has had a lot of niggly injuries but he is getting a proper pre-season this year. I’m confident that when the team is picked that Dan Carter will still be one of the first names on it.”

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