AUCKLAND, NZ – The All Blacks broke a 24-year-old spell on Sunday night, beating France 8-7 in the Rugby World Cup Final in full capacity Eden Park in front of a 61,079 strong audience.
France showed early on that they meant business this time, forming a threatening V shape opposing the All Blacks haka before kick-off, threateningly advancing within New Zealand side from their 10-meter line, breaking IRB regulations of observing the required distance for the war dance.
“I don’t think players have to stay twenty meters away, I think they can cross the middle line.” – said France head coach Marc Lievremont, shrugging off suggestions of an IRB sanction. – “They tried to stop them, it was a fraternal movement, but it is a treasure of the French union.” – he jokingly added.
Both team’s fly halves were replaced early on. French fly half Morgan Parra was replaced by Francois Trinh-Duc in the 12th for blood bin and 23rd minute permanently for a near-eye face bone injury. New Zealand’s third choice fly half Aaron Cruden, called up to the squad after injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade, was forced off the field with a knee injury, bringing fourth choice Stephen Donald to the position in the 34th minute.
French defense was firmly in place, effectively slowing down All Blacks ball movement, and the two teams went to half time 5-0 to the All Blacks, the only score coming from prop Tony Woodcock’s try in the 15th minute that Weepu failed to convert, also to fail a penalty kick ten minutes later. Trinh-Duc also missed a drop goal in the 35th, however made an impressive 30-meter run with the ball only to be stopped by a tap tackle from Weepu, earning an instant twitter comment from former France player Frederic Michalak: “We r gone win this game”.
In the second half, French scrum half Dimitri Yachvili failed to place a penalty kick early on, but Donald placed his in the 46th. Just one minute later, Trinh-Duc broke through All Blacks defense and gaining the ball from the breakdown, France captain flanker Thierry Dusautoir scored a try for France, that Trinh-Duc converted, bringing the score to a nailbiting 7-8.
“It’s hard to explain what did not work. We had a good reaction after their try.” – said man of the match Dusautoir. – “We showed that France deserved their spot in the final.”
France kept on the pressure, but All Blacks defense was structured and in place for the final thirty minutes of the game, and with no more points scored, winning the cup for the All Blacks for the second time after the inaugural 1987 competition with the lowest scoring final of World Cup History.
“To win means everything. We really showed that All Blacks tenacity.” – said All Blacks head coach Graham Henry. – “I was nervous the whole game, not just about Stephen Donald, I knew he could handle it. I’m just delighted for the boys. We’ve been the top team in the world for a long time, so it’s been a long time coming. The people have been outstanding in support of this team and of this Rugby World Cup. I’m so proud to be a New Zealander standing here.”
The home crowd was frantic, as both teams received their awards from IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset, and All Blacks captain Ritchie McCaw lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. The celebrations included fireworks as well as an impromptu haka performance from the All Blacks, and will continue on the streets of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington with public celebratory parades throughout the day on Monday, celebrating the team’s second World Cup win on home soil.