The All Blacks have ended 24 years of hurt, choking and misery. If there was any team on par with the South African Cricket team, as far as World Cup heartbreak, fluke and fate was concerned, it was the New Zealand Rugby team. Since 87, when the first World Cup was staged, the country has endured all sorts of natural, spiritual, supernatural and mental disasters every four years. But on Sunday night, they have finally come a full circle and have booked their ultimate date with destiny. Finally, as Captain Richie McCaw put it, they can rest in peace.
But if you expected to see scenes of absolute carnage and earth-shattering celebration of relief and tears at the final whistle, you’d be mistaken. The players of both teams on the pitch were so thoroughly knackered, that they struggled to summon the courage to raise their hands to the adoring fans. They were done. RWC 2011 had come to an end- and as clichéd as it may sound, the final exemplified every single aspect that the Warriors, the last men standing, stood for.
The All Blacks are Champions for the second time in history. France knocked them out of the 2007 World Cup (an almighty upset) and the ’99 World Cup too. This was revenge exacted at the highest level. To make matters worse for Les Bleus, they won none of those World Cups. The last hurdle proved to be a bit too much, once again, but only JUST.
It was a hell of a game- not to say France did not show up. They turned up in flying colors, and gave everything they had, and more. Their spirit will go down in the record books, as this was not only the lowest scoring World Cup Final ever, but also the smallest margin of wins. 8-7. Yes, the final score, in the final after 2 months of competitive body-breaking Rugby.
Ticker Tape Frenzy
Early signs for the All Blacks were Ominous. It seemed like the occasion had gotten the better of them, inspite of their intimidating routine Haka dance at the start, when their ever-reliable kicker Weepu missed all three of his penalty kicks, including a follow-up. This was the same man that scored almost all the points against a clueless Australian side a week ago. But here, on the biggest stage, he had broken. Nevertheless, not for no reason, are the All Blacks the best team on the planet (as they were in ’95 and ’07). This time, they fought tooth and nail, and were prepared for the most physical game of the year. There was technical errors, mistakes, skills missing and careless kicks all over the place from both teams, succumbing to all sorts of stage-fright, but throughout those 80 minutes- at whatever level they could- they gave their very best.
A try by Woodcock came out of nothing in the 15th minute, from a line-out at the right. He split open the French defense, and NZ were on their way- despite struggling till then. They were all over the French team for the next 25 minutes, though, and France did well to keep them down to that one try.
The second half brought a change in fortunes, for both sides. The Number 10s were off by now, injured and done, and Weepu was soon taken off to be replaced by Ellis soon after. Donald did the needful and FINALLY made a penalty to make it 8-0.
Shockingly, the French responded with a gallant lunge by their captain and man-of-the-match Dusautoir, capitalizing on an errant touchkick. Yachville then converted to make it 8-7 within just two minutes. GAME ON, it was. But somehow, like true desperate Champions holding onto their destiny by the skin of their teeth, the All Blacks defense held on- and withstood phase after phase of Blue attacks. When Trinh-Duc missed a crucial penalty with 15 minutes to go, the French started to lose steam. This was it, they thought, and you could see it in their body language. But they soldiered on, not losing the ball for five whole minutes at one time, trying their utmost best to reach the touchline.
Gallant French Toast
They failed. NZ gained an all-important penalty in the penultimate minute, and that was it. They kicked it out, and all hell broke loose. 8-7. It was all OVER. Heartbreak one side, and joyous scenes on the other. The French could be proud of the fact that they were the better team, but came agonizingly close to winning their first World Cup.
For New Zealand, one could say, that it was only a matter of time. They have been the best for a good decade now, always missing out when it mattered.
Tonight, it mattered. And they delivered. Much like Dhoni and his boys did, at HOME, after 24 long years. This, indeed, is a year of full circles.
See you at England 2015.