24 Oct 2011

All Blacks lift first Rugby World Cup for 24 years

12:46 am on 24 October 2011

New Zealand ended their Rugby World Cup hoodoo by beating France in a nerve-shredding final at Eden Park, by 8-7 on Sunday night.

It was the first title for the All Blacks since the inuagural tournament, also held in New Zealand, in 1987.

The dramatic win sparked jubilation on the pitch with Richie McCaw showing raw emotion in the post-match interview while thousands of fans in the stadium went wild and tens of thousands in fanzones in the main centres began what is likely to be a long party.

It was tense right until the last few seconds as the French played extremely well for the last half hour, but stern defending from the All Blacks was decisive in holding off their Gallic rivals. The score was the lowest in Rugby World Cup final history.

A try from veteran Tony Woodcock after 15 minutes was New Zealand's only one throughout the 80 minutes with Stephen Donald, who came on for the injured Aaron Cruden, adding a penalty in the second-half.

Courageous French captain Thierry Dusautoir scored for France and a conversion pulled the erratic French back to just 8-7 with 30 minutes remaining.

The All Blacks struggled from early on, as the French played with their famous flamboyance that has undone the All Blacks in two previous World Cups.

New Zealand held a 5-0 lead at half-time with Woodcock's try separating the sides.

It was a very different match from when the two sides met last month in a pool match, the All Blacks coming up trumps, 37-17. On the back of that win, and those over Argentina and Australia in the knock-out stages, the All Blacks were overwhelming favourites, especially as the French had blown hot and cold in their matches so far, with some considering them lucky to have beaten Wales the previous weekend.

Weepu's woes

However, the host team could have gone into the interval with a more comfortable lead, if kicker Piri Weepu hadn't been out of sorts, missing three attempts on goal.

The French, in their change white strip, made a mockery of their underdog status.

In the first two minutes, a mistake at line-out led to Les Bleus taking possession and holding it for more than two minutes without making too much of an impact.

After repelling this initial threat, Jerome Kaino snatched the ball at line-out, and flicked to Woodcock who crossed over for the first try of the match. However, Weepu missed the conversion attempt and his two penalty kicks during the half were both woefully wide of the posts.

Following the try the All Blacks took the upper hand and looked far more threatening than they did in the opening 10 minutes when the French played very well.

A few minutes before half-time the All Blacks suffered a blow when first five-eight Aaron Cruden had to be helped off the pitch after following awkwardly in a tackle.

Donald the hero

New Zealand coach Graham Henry deprived Weepu of kicking duties at the start of the second half, giving Stephen Donald the responsibility, and he repaid that trust in with a penalty kick on 45 minutes to establish an 8-0 lead.

However, just two minutes later Dusautoir sneaked over next to the post for a try following some good passing and driving work from France. Francois Trinh-Duc easily converted to reduce the arrears to 8-7 and instil an eerie silence around Eden Park.

That seemed to rattle the All Blacks who failed to impose themselves again, with the French looking sharper and hungrier. But they missed a chance to go ahead when Dmitri Yachvili missed a penalty by a margin matching that of one of Weepu's poor first-half efforts.

For the pre-match haka the French initially stood, hand-in-hand, some distance away in an arrow-head formation before moving toward the All Blacks.