France (0) 7
Tries: Dusautoir; Conversions: Trinh-Duc
New Zealand (5) 8
Tries: Woodcock; Penalties: Donald
The All Blacks finally ended 24 years of disappointment by beating France 7-8 in the rugby World Cup final at Eden Park, but they didn’t do it without a serious scare. The French, justly labelled the worst side ever to reach a World Cup final, were the better side on the day, but missed kicks and some borderline refereeing decisions conspired to defeat them. Although the French will look back and believe that they should have won, few would deny that the All Blacks were worthy winners given their performances throughout the tournament.
The game began in much the same way as the group game between the two teams, with France in the ascendancy. A willingness to put width on the ball was causing New Zealand problems and was denying their back row the chance to spoil possession at the breakdown. Just as had happened a few weeks earlier, however, France’s bright start was eclipsed by a breakaway All Black try. Already reeling from the loss of Morgan Parra, who was forced off as McCaw’s knee caught his head in a ruck, the French went to sleep at the lineout and allowed Tony Woodcock to stroll through from 7m out. Although Weepu missed the conversion, New Zealand were 5-0 up and France’s bright start was wasted.
With the All Blacks starting to control proceedings, only Weepu’s wayward kicking prevented the men in black pulling further ahead. An early penalty had already skewed wide, in addition to the conversion, before his third attempt also flew off target from right in front of the posts. Despite this, however, the home team were controlling both territory and possession, aided by Joubert’s liberality at the breakdown. The South African referee was in a lenient mood, and it allowed Kaino, Read and McCaw to make a mess of every breakdown they could reach, much to the frustration of France’s backs.
As the match approached half-time, the French finally established some phases and field position. As they barrelled forwards, Trinh-Duc attempted an ambitious drop goal from 40m but sliced it wide of the right-hand upright, and it seemed the chance had gone. When the clearance again fell to France’s replacement fly-half, however, he set off on a fantastic break, scything through the All Blacks’ chasers and leaving Kaino for dead with a cute dummy. Weepu’s desperate tap-tackle halted the attack and kept the half-time score at 5-0, but France had served notice of their capabilities.
The French start to the second half was nothing short of explosive. First, McCaw was finally penalised by Joubert for having his hands in the ruck, but Yachvilli pushed his kick inches wide. A soft penalty then allowed Stephen Donald, on for his World Cup debut in place of the injured Aaron Cruden, to extend the lead to 8-0, and it looked like a promising beginning might again be wasted. Then, as the All Blacks paused at a ruck on half way, the impressive Aurelien Rougerie stuck a foot through the ruck and kicked the ball through. As Weepu instinctively hacked at the ball, Trinh-Duc burst forward to intercept his flick and set off for the posts. Although the supporting Yachvilli lost his footing, giving New Zealand time to reorganise on their own line, Dusautoir cut a brilliant angle a touched down under the posts.
Suddenly, the French were in complete control. Yachvilli and Trinh-Duc began to pin the All Blacks back with clever touchfinders, and Mermoz and the outstanding Rougerie carried with relish in the midfield. New Zealand couldn’t get near the ball, let alone the French half, and even the refereeing began to go against them, as two penalties cost them 50 yards and gave Trinh-Duc the chance to seize the lead on 64 minutes. France will forever wonder what might have happened if the kick had gone over, but the pressure told and it missed by a good 10m. Even so, it seemed impossible that New Zealand could hold out under such relentless attack.
Yet hold out they did. Donald and Dagg both managed to buy some respite with booming clearances, and marginal knock-ons began to creep into the French game as their desperation increased. With the clock running down, France strove to get into drop-goal range but could not fashion an opportunity. The irrepressible Rougerie finally gave them momentum, smashing through Conrad Smith and surging forward, but Jean-Marc Doussain, making not only his World Cup but also his international debut at the age of 20, knocked-on at the base of the ruck and New Zealand were able to clear their lines. As they ground down the time until the final whistle, an entire nation contemplated the end of two generations of heartache, and no one outside France could begrudge them their moment.
Despite coming so very, very close to losing the final, New Zealand were absolutely worthy winners of the 2011 World Cup. By far the best team over the previous four years (and arguably over the previous eight), they consistently rose to the occasion from their first game. They destroyed France in their pool and overcame Australia at a canter in the semis, even absorbing the loss of the talismanic Dan Carter. While Joubert’s generosity and two missed penalties were required to see them home, no one could claim that another team had better players or better form over the past six weeks. Attention will now turn to 2015, where England will hope to emulate the All Blacks in pulling off a victory as the host nation. In the meantime, keep checking back on Foot in Touch as we reflect on the World Cup, look forward to the Six Nations and the 2013 Lions tour, and also get into club rugby with some interviews and revealing profile pieces.