x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

All Blacks hold nerve to win Rugby World Cup

New Zealand edge France 8-7 in a low-scoring final at Eden Park in Auckland to win their second World Cup.

Richie McCaw lifts the Webb Ellis trophy as New Zealand ended their 24-year wait to win the Rugby World Cup.
Richie McCaw lifts the Webb Ellis trophy as New Zealand ended their 24-year wait to win the Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand 8-7 France

Chokers? What chokers?

Amid scenes of huge relief and jubilation, New Zealand ended a 23-year wait for their second Rugby World Cup win yesterday with victory by the narrowest possible margin. But, boy, did they make hard work of it.

Richie McCaw, the captain, acknowledged afterwards his side “couldn’t have been under any more pressure” and it started to show as France all but wiped out their eight-point lead with a try from Thierry Dusautoir, their magnificent captain, and a Francois Trinh-Duc conversion. Indeed, France could have been celebrating one of the greatest sporting upsets had Trinh-Duc converted a 64th-minute penalty.

But the All Blacks, just about, held on in front of a crowd of 61,000 at Eden Park in Auckland.

“Marvellous,” Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach, said. “It’s something we’ve dreamed of for a while .”

The sense of relief was palpable for a nation who have repeatedly underachieved at the World Cup, losing in the final in 1995, the semi-finals in 1991, 1999 and 2003, and in the quarter-finals, to France, in 2007.

“No one can ever take this away from this group,” McCaw said. “I think the whole country should be proud of every single one of them. Everyone dug as deep as they can.”

New Zealand certainly had to delve deep into their playing reserves. Already denuded by the absence of Dan Carter, their star fly-half, and his replacement, Colin Slade, the All Blacks then lost Aaron Cruden with a knee problem late in the first half. That meant Stephen Donald was thrust into the action.

After being shunted from No 10 to 12 and then out of the team last year, he had virtually given up on his international career by joining Bath in the English Premiership.

He was not even named in the original 30-man squad and was fishing when the call came from Henry to join the squad. He was lauded as “superb” by Henry after his 45th-minute penalty proved the difference between the two sides.

“It’s tough to put into words. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Donald said. “I guess it won’t for a while. In a couple of weeks, I guess I will look down at this gold medal and be a very proud man.

“To get the chance to prove that I am an All Black is good. I think a World Cup final is a pretty good place to start.”
France became the first team to reach a World Cup final after losing twice in the pool stages. One of those pool losses was to New Zealand, by 37-17, which underlined the size of the task they faced in ruining the All Blacks party yesterday.

“I feel immensely sad and immensely proud at the same time,” Marc Lievremont, the outgoing France coach, said. “People have always said, and thought, that the All Blacks were the greatest team of all time, but I think it’s the France team that was great, and even immense. It’s tough to take.”

France had become something of a bete noire for the All Blacks, beating them in the 1999 semi-final when they overcame a 14-point deficit in the quarter-finals in 2007.

Dusautoir was magnificent in the second of those upsets, producing a remarkable tackle count of 30 out of a team total of 200.

He was heroic again yesterday, capping a thunderous display with a second-half try.

“It’s a real pity. I am really proud of my boys and what they did,” Dusautoir said. “We read a lot of [criticism] this week ... I remind you of all the comments we had to put up [with] this week, but today there were 30 guys on the field who were just as scared as each other.

“I thought we showed we know how to play rugby. We did our utmost, and fell short by a point. We’re very sad at the outcome, but we had some luck in the previous match, and that’s the way it goes.”