By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor at Eden Park
NEW ZEALAND’S wait is over. They are world champions once again and Richie McCaw is the first All Black to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in 24 years. But they didn’t take the easy route to glory – beating France by the narrowest of margins, 8-7, thanks to a determined defence.
For all the questions marks over the French psyche, they turned up at Eden Park and put in their best performance of the tournament, a committed and powerful effort that prevented the All Blacks from finding their natural rhythm. In the second half Les Bleus dominated for long periods and once they scored a try you sensed that they would fancy their chances of a drop-goal to snatch an incredible win, but New Zealand did enough to hold off that threat with a gritty performance that ended a nation’s heartache.
So what’s the verdict on the final?
1. The opening
Everyone was hyped up for the haka but the French stole their thunder somewhat. First they held hands in an arrowhead formation before marching forward as one and forming a solid line just metres from the All Blacks. It was a brilliant response and one they should be applauded for. Instead, they’ll no doubt be fined by the IRB for crossing the 10m line! What was better from France is that they backed up that opening on the pitch.
2. The back rows
Thierry Dusautoir was immense for France, his work-rate absolutely incredible in defence and attack, and he defined himself as an inspiring leader. Imanol Harinordoquy was the same. Jerome Kaino continued his fine work that we’ve seen throughout the tournament and Kieran Read stood out. Richie McCaw dirtied his copybook with the Morgan Parra incident but it was still a darn good performance for a man playing on one leg.
3. Stephen Donald
As yet another All Black fly-haf went down, Bath’s new signing was called into action and he steadied the ship. He calmly slotted a crucial three points at the start of the second half, defended extremely well and kicked intelligently, relieving pressure and making good territorial gains.
1. The goalkicking
Piri Weepu may have been the hero two weeks ago against Argentina, but he faltered against Australia and completely combusted against France with some awful attempts at goal. That ‘Keep Calm, Piri’s On’ T-shirt might well be changed to ‘Keep Calm, Piri’s Off’ now and had New Zealand lost this match he would have been advised to leave the country sharpish having missed eight points.
2. The attacking game
There was little of the flair for which both these teams are famed, and while that’s to be expected in a final it was disappointing. Both defences stood firm and when the teams could string phases together (France managed more of this than New Zealand) it was more side to side than forward thrusts. Francois Trinh-Duc made one lovely, mazy run and Israel Dagg probed every now and then, but there was none of the edge-of-your-seat attacking moves that both these teams are capable of. A shame for both the viewers in the stadium and around the world.
1. The refereeing
There was a real lack of consistency in Craig Joubert’s decisions and he didn’t seem to have the courage to make the big calls, often opting for free-kicks rather than penalties, allowing breakdowns to become a free for all. The officials also missed Richie McCaw’s knee striking Morgan Parra’s face – and it’ll be interested to see if he’s cited now. Not that it matters. Even if he’s banned, he won’t miss any games for the New Zealanders don’t play again until 2012.
2. The ending
It looked like we were about to have a repeat of Munster’s Heineken Cup win in 2008 as the All Blacks strived to pick-and-go for a few minutes. Luckily the tedium was broken slightly when they were awarded a penalty and went for the lineout. It was a boring and uninspiring end to a World Cup final, a stage that deserves better.
Well done New Zealand. The All Blacks deserved to win because they have been the best side in the world for several years now, but it’s a shame that the rugby didn’t live up to the occasion.