All Blacks End 24-Year Drought
New Zealand finally shook the unenviable chokers tag and recaptured the Webb Ellis Cup after 24 years of agony with a thrilling 8-7 victory over France at Auckland’s Eden Park on Sunday.
The French pitched up for the main event and delivered their best performance of the tournament as they threw everything at their hosts.
The biggest event in World Cup history kicked off with the French accepting the All Black challenge laid down by their haka as they formed an arrow formation behind their skipper Thierry Dusautoir, fanning out and marching toward the war cry.
Both teams rightly seemed pumped up for the biggest event of their lives and the initial confrontation proved this as both threw everything into the early tackles and rucks.
Dimitri Yachvili would make the first mistake of the match as his tactical kick went directly into touch, yet the All Blacks gave the ball straight back with an uncharacteristic loose lineout. The pressure of the final was clear for all to see.
It was the French who built some early continuity with ball in hand as they looked to get their outside backs involved.
Despite finding themselves on the back foot, having to make plenty of tackles in the first five minutes, it was the home team who got the first opportunity to open the scoring as referee Craig Joubert pinned France for an offside offence on the first occasion that the men in black ventured into the French half.
Piri Weepu would miss his first attempt and the French would continue to dominate territory and possession for most of the first fifteen minutes.
Les Blues, however, were unable to convert their early dominance into points and they paid the ultimate price when Tony Woodcock went over for the opening try of the World Cup final from a well worked lineout move.
Weepu had kicked a pin-point penalty kick from just inside his own half to 15 metres short of the French line and as is often the case with the New Zealanders, they made their first visit to their opponents' quarter count.
Jerome Kaino took the ball at the back of the lineout and popped it smartly back inside in mid air to his loosehead prop who came on a perfectly angled run straight through the non-existent French defence.
Despite the early set-back the visitors rightly stuck to their recipe of playing a more expansive game as they knew that it was arguably their only chance of pulling off a major upset.
Though the intentions, effort and vigour of the French did not diminish, the All Blacks were able to find their rhythm in the second quarter but the errant boot of Weepu kept the score at only 5-0.
In the 35the minute, the All Blacks were dealt a cruel blow when flyhalf Aaron Cruden limped off with a knee injury. The same had happened to their opponents, who lost Morgan Parra early on, resulting in Stephen Donald and Francois Trinh-Duc to take over the pivot duties for their respective sides.
With the score at 5-0 at the break it was probably a fair reflection of the game despite France being a tad unlucky not be on the score board for their endeavour and good constructive play, yet they were also fortunate that the All Blacks had squandered eight points with the boot.
There would have been many a nervous All Black fan in the stands and coach Graham Henry must have had harsh words for his team to ensure they put the French away as soon as possible rather than keeping the most famous of underdogs in with a sniff as they have the habit of clinching matches at the death.
After a missed penalty opportunity by Yachvili, fourth-choice All Black flyhalf Donald stepped up to the plate to slot the first kick of the match and with the first few minutes of the second stint done, the home supporters could find some comfort in an eight-point lead.
The relief soon turned to panic as Weepu’s night went from bad to horrible as his lackadaisical play at the rucks allowed the French to chip the loose ball forward with Trinh-Duc collecting and setting off toward the try line. Desperate All Black defence would stop him short, but eventually Dusautoir was on hand to slide over and pull the score to 8-7.
Having almost expected their team to have things their own way in the final, the New Zealanders in the stand would have been at the edge of their seats as they now saw their team in the scrap of their lives for the remaining half hour.
France had their tails up and were throwing the kitchen sink at the home team who had introduced plenty of fresh legs, including the substitution of hero-turned-villain Weepu, who had a night he would rather want to forget.
Moving into the final quarter of the match, the game was in the balance and either team seemed capable of coming away with the win. Trinh-Duc lined up a long-distance penalty kick from the halfway line, but unfortunately for Les Bleus he pulled his kick to the right.
France, however, kept coming at the All Blacks and were holding nothing back both in attack and defence. The home team were relying on tactical kicks and their fantastic discipline to get them home.
From the 70th minute to the 77th minute, the French first took the ball through more than 16 phases with most of these inside New Zealand’s half of the field before they won a scrum from where the men from the Northern Hemisphere had another crack at the All Blacks, but the efforts of All Black skipper Richie McCaw saw the turnover come for the New Zealanders.
They could easily have conceded a penalty which would have cost them the game but in the end it was the match-winning moment as France would not get another opportunity to get their hands on the ball.
In the end, it was a fantastic, tight, tough final and one which capped a brilliant tournament. The passionate French performance was one of courage and one where they followed the right game plan and executed it with aplomb.
Yet the All Blacks are a champion side and they proved it with their pure determination and excellent discipline on defence when it mattered most.
Over the course of the entire tournament, the All Blacks were deserved winners of the Web Ellis Cup in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
SARugby.com Man of the Match: The French deserve credit for the way that they pitched up for the big event. They played with passion and their courageous captain Thierry Dusautoir led by example.
He left it all out on the park and was everywhere - making tackles, contesting for ball on the ground, carrying the ball well and scoring his team’s try.
New Zealand - Try: Tony Woodcock. Penalties: Stephen Donald.
France - Try: Thierry Dusautoir. Conversion: Francois Trinh-Duc.