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The legend of the so-called Bat­tle of Nantes has grown over the years. Un­sur­pris­ingly maybe be­cause it was one of test rugby’s most bru­tal and vi­o­lent en­coun­ters of the mod­ern age.

France had been out in New Zealand ear­lier that year and had lost to the Baby Blacks in Christchurch, which didn’t overly please them. And when they couldn’t ex­act re­venge on Novem­ber 8 in Toulouse, they de­cided they had to go all out to win the fi­nal game. They wanted a vic­tory against the All Blacks be­fore the World Cup the fol­low­ing year and they de­cided the best way to get one, was to treat the con­test in Nantes as a war.

The phys­i­cal­ity – le­gal and il­le­gal – went o the scale. The French were ram­pant, lit­er­ally climb­ing into rucks, us­ing their boots freely to shift All Blacks out the way and fists reg­u­larly flew around.

The bit every­one re­mem­bers of course is that All Blacks cap­tain Buck Shelford ended up hav­ing his tes­ti­cles rucked and split open. The wound re­quired mul­ti­ple stitches and yet he played on. It wasn’t un­til he was con­cussed and lost two teeth in the sec­ond half that he fi­nally re­lented and came o – cre­at­ing a story that went around the world and is read­ily re­called 20-plus years later.

The twist in the tale came a few years ago when a book was re­leased in France sug­gest­ing that the French had taken am­phet­a­mines be­fore that game. And it was an ac­cu­sa­tion that Shelford found easy to be­lieve.

“When I came out of the tun­nel and I saw them, I looked into the eyes of many of the play­ers as I walked past them, and their eyes did not say that they were go­ing into a game against the All Blacks,” he told Ra­dio New Zealand.

“Their eyes just looked like they were on some­thing, and I could not prove it.”

HIGH FLY­ING The All Blacks sus­pected France had taken some­thing be­fore kick o .

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