All Blacks Top the World!

Rarely has so much anticipation surrounded a World Cup final, but unlike most finals the onus was all faced towards one team; New Zealand. Could they put behind them 24 years of pain and finally take the trophy they have been favoured to take so many times in the past? The French seemingly didn’t seem to play a part in the build-up to the final, mocking banners around Eden Park with slogans such as ‘French toast’ served only to highlight the one dimensional approach many observers had before the match. The script was simple, New Zealand turn up and lay claim to the trophy that has eluded them for 24 years against a French side who had been seen in many people’s eyes as lucky to reach the final. Unfortunately nobody seems to have informed Les Bleus of their secondary role and as with much of their Rugby history they gave a battled and spirited performance led immaculately by Captain Thierry Dusautoir.

 

The scene was set for a grand tussle during the traditional Haka performed by the All Blacks, the French formed an arrow formation of linked arms and came within a few metres of the chanting Kiwi’s. This breaks with the Rugby Boards directive regarding approaching the Haka within ten metres but as a spectacle it was sensational and certainly set a precedent for the match that would follow. The French were not going to be intimidated or overawed by the event and one feels that they somewhat enjoy the underdog tag. The game itself wasn’t the high scoring affair many had predicted and the French started the game at a frantic pace, not wanting the All Blacks to settle down and control the game. The pace though seemed to catch them off guard and after conceding a soft penalty and kicking down field, New Zealand broke the deadlock with the most unlikely of players, prop Tony Woodcock bursting through a gaping hole in the French line and diving over for a try. That then would be that most assumed, unfortunately it was not to be that straightforward, Piri Weepu missed the conversion and then missed two penalties increasing the anxiety around Eden Park and leaving the score at just 5-0 at half time.

 

The second half continued at much the same pace, the French maintaining a ferocious tempo in certain periods. Six minutes in though forgotten man Stephen Donald who was according to some reports fishing two weeks ago came onto the pitch and delivered what would be the winning penalty. Donald had replaced Anthony Cruden just before half time after he felt the full thrust of a French tackle and was forced off with a knee problem. Surely now the French would fold? It resulted, however, in giving them a greater sense of belief and they produced a great passage of play culminating in a well taken try by Dustatoir. The try was converted and with 34 minutes remaining the score was delicately poised at 8 – 7. The wind would again seem to be blowing against New Zealand but the All Blacks stayed firm and showed great character. Despite Francois Trinh-Duc’s 65th minute penalty sailing just wide the Kiwi’s held on to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.

 

The game was a great spectacle, far closer than many predicted and some will of course claim France maybe deserved a victory but one has to feel that the best side prevailed. It would be hard to justify the French winning the cup given the quality New Zealand have shown over the last two months. They have been the outstanding side of the competition, led marvelously by Captain Richie McCaw and Manager Graham Henry who deserve a lot of credit for their leadership during the tournament. Having the weight of expectation that accompanies New Zealand to every World Cup is not easy and the two men never seemed fazed and remained focused on the job.

The tournament itself has certainly been exciting in many parts; the great effort of the Welsh was certainly the highlight from the British perspective. Aside from some of the great performances from other nations throughout the tournament it undeniably belonged to the All Blacks who finally overcome their demons to triumph and lay claim to the previously elusive Webb Ellis Cup.

Written by: Liam Conway

 

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