Many congratulations to the All Blacks on their thrilling victory over France in the RWC 2011 Final. Despite ridiculous odds from bookmakers predicting a convincing All Black victory, RWC history suggested that a tight game was always likely. However, few would have anticipated the titanic battle which took place at Eden Park.
The French should be applauded for their well choreographed opposition to the Haka. The IRB guidelines keeping sides 20 metres apart during the Haka were ignored by Thierry Dusautoir and his team and a sense of balance was restored to the pre match proceedings. For too long it has been wrongly viewed as disrespectful to front the traditional Maori challenge. The majority of the rugby world loves the Haka and to respond to the New Zealand challenge shows respect. This was acknowledged by current and former All Blacks after the game. For the IRB to fine France for fronting the Haka is ludicrous.
The All Black players and management were never going to be complacent ahead of the final. There was however some irrational exuberance amongst the New Zealand media and public about the likely winning margin and this resulted in genuine disbelief and shock that the outcome of the game was in doubt right up until the final whistle. The tension and drama of the game made for a fitting finale to the tournament. The manner of the victory and the 1 point margin again confirmed that in cup finals, anything can happen.
France played with flair and skill which had not been seen in their 6 previous matches in the world cup. In addition, they displayed a steely determination and hunger suggesting that after being losing finalists in 1987 and 1999 it might have been third time lucky for them. There have been few more convincing performances by loose forwards in recent years than that by the French triumvirate of Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire and captain Dusautoir. It is to their credit that they sufficiently rattled the All Blacks to make a memorable contest of a game; the outcome of which many had thought was a foregone conclusion.
There has been a sense of destiny about this World Cup, not dissimilar to South Africa winning in 1995. The tragedies which have afflicted New Zealand in the last 13 months are well documented. Additionally many of the All Black squad had recovered from serious injuries and returned to perform on the greatest rugby stage of all.
However, it was not destiny alone that provided for this victory. Tremendous credit must go to the men in black – players, coaches and management. The strength of character and physical commitment that saw them victorious in the final against France was exceptional. None epitomised this more than Captain Richie McCaw, who continues to play the game with a total disregard to his own safety. This victory was reward for several years of preparation, commitment and focus rather than the mere eighty minutes of the final. While France may have performed better in the final, the All Blacks were clearly the team of the tournament.
All New Zealanders have played a major part in the success of RWC 2011 and should be proud of how they have welcomed the rugby world to their shores. The country has matured during this tournament perhaps encouraged by observing how other visiting teams have been supported by their fans. Has the New Zealand anthem ever been sung with such passion and unbridled pride as by those at Eden Park for the final? Many previously staunch Kiwis have been released from their shackles and realise that it is ok to show pride and emotion while supporting your team. Some are already looking to 2015 and talking of being the first team to retain the trophy. Perhaps Kiwis should just enjoy the moment. The All Blacks have secured the Webb Ellis Cup and this deserves to be celebrated. Worry about 2015 closer to the time. Meanwhile enjoy your rugby, continue to sing your anthem with gusto and loyally support your team regardless of results.
JG’s Team of the Tournament
15 Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
14 George North (Wales)
13 Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
12 Jamie Roberts (Wales)
11 Richard Kahui (New Zealand)
10 Dan Carter (New Zealand)
9 Mike Phillips (Wales)
8 Imanol Harinordoquy (France)
7 David Pocock (Australia)
6 Thierry Dusautoir (France)
5 James Horwill (Australia)
4 Brad Thorn (New Zealand)
3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)
2 Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa)
1 Tony Woodcock (New Zealand)