New Zealand World Champions
New Zealand, massively under the cosh for much of the second-half against an unrecogniseable France, have finally got their hands on the Webb Ellis trophy again, 24 years after they won the inaugural competition against the same opponents.
It was an utterly gripping, dog-fight of a match, despite the low score, and comfortably the best World Cup final we have been treated to. France, as we hoped they might, produced a superhuman effort, which we know they can when the mood is with them. They threw the kitchen sink at the All Blacks, playing with great spirit, elan and no little bravery.
It wasn’t to be, though, and come the end Sir Brian Lochore, the New Zealand coach back in 1987, strode onto the field with a young mini rugby player from Christchurch to deliver the World Cup to the presentation party. New Zealand rugby is finally back on top.
So the mother of all parties can begin, and New Zealand can shed the ‘chokers’ tag that has haunted them, but they only won this match by a hair’s breadth. Indeed, yet again in this bizarre but wonderful World Cup, the better team lost. France won everything bar the match.
Before the match we wondered if France would “turn up” and we had the answer before a ball was even kicked in anger when they formed a chevron to face the haka, and then marched forward with serious intent to meet the challenge. New Zeland definitely had a game on their hands.
A high-quality passage of continuity play enforced that impression, with France playing more rugby in the first 10 minutes of this game than they did in the entire 80 against Wales, but New Zealand held firm and eventually started to find some field position from which to attack.
Scrum-half Piri Weepu was enjoying a busy game at scrum-half, but enduring a nightmare with his goal kicking duties – hooking his first attempt badly and missing two others in the first-half as France rode their luck a little in that respect.
They were unlucky elsewhere, however, with Morgan Parra appearing to pick up a stray knee in the head and staying down for a long count while referee Craig Joubert refused to stop play. Eventually Parra was led off, to be replaced by Francois Trinh-Duc and, although he briefly tried to comeback, he was eventually forced to stay off for good.
New Zealand took the lead after 15 minutes with a line-out move straight from the coaching manual, which put a smile on Steve Hansen’s face.
Keven Mealamu, who had missed a couple of early throws, located Kieran Read at the back of the line and the No 8 flicked it down perfectly for prop Tony Woodcock to storm over unopposed in his 83rd Test.
With Weepu missing his kicks, though, New Zealand were struggling to build a lead and alarm bells started ringing in the 34th minute when Aaron Cruden went down with a twisted knee. This time, to France’s chagrin, Joubert stopped the game immediately before Cruden was helped to the touchline.
On came Stephen Donald, New Zealand’s fourth-choice fly-half after previous injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade. Remarkably, Donald was making his World Cup debut.
New Zealand were shaken, while France sensed their uncertainty and upped the pace. They badly needed some points but Trinh-Duc pushed a drop-goal wide as half-time beckoned.
After the break New Zealand opened up with a penalty from Donald to stretch the lead to 8-0, but Trinh-Duc, enjoying a fine game, broke again to get Les Bleus rolling and finally they struck through their captain, Thierry Dusautoir, already enjoying a heroic game in defence, sliding in by the posts.
With Trinh-Duc converting, it was game on for the rest of the half.
Weepu put the restart straight into touch and Graham Henry had seen enough – off he came to be replaced by Andrew Ellis. The French kept going low in the tackle, very much as Wales did against Ireland, trying to stop the powerful All Blacks runners at source. The hosts were rattled, but with a huge crowd behind them they refused to buckle.
This was getting very tense. Trinh-Duc’s purple passage came to an end when he missed a penatly from 48 metres, but still they pressed on and it needed a wonderful clearing kick from Israel Dagg, and then a fine tackle from Richie McCaw on Alexis Palisson, to protect New Zealand’s lead.
The French poured it on but New Zealand’s jaws were set. No matter what France were going to throw at them they would resist. They were not going to let this slip.
France had used their luck up earlier in this tournament but they went down in a blaze of glory, their heads held high and, fittingly, the remakable Dusautoir received the Man of the Match award.
What a game!
New Zealand XV: I Dagg (Hawkes Bay); C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu (all Wellington), R Kahui (Waikato); A Cruden (Waikato) P Weepu (Wellington); T Woodcock (North Harbour), K Mealamu (Auckland), O Franks, S Whitelock, B Thorn (all Canterbury), J Kaino (Auckland), R McCaw (Canterbury, capt), K Read (Canterbury)
Replacements: A Williams (Auckland) for Whitelock (48), A Ellis (Canterbury) for Weepu (48), A Hore (Taranaki) for Mealamu (50), SB Williams (Canterbury) for Nonu (75)
Scores: Try: Woodcock. Pen: Donald
France XV: M Medard; V Clerc (both Toulouse), A Rougerie (Clermont), M Mermoz (Perpignan), A Palisson (Toulon); M Parra (Clermont), D Yachvili (Biarritz); J-B Poux, W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), P Pape (Stade Francais), L Nallet (Racing Metro), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), J Bonnaire (Clermont), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz)
Replacements: Blood rep. Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier) for Parra (11-18) Trinh-duc for Parra (25). D Traille for Clerc (40), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), for Servat (60), F Barcella (Biarritz) for Poux (60), J Pierre (Clermont) for Pape (65), J-M Doussain (Toulouse) for Yachvili 75
Scores: Try: Dusautoir. Con: Trinh-Duc
Source: The Telegraph