AUCKLAND, (Reuters) – Hosts New Zealand just about held their collective nerve to edge France 8-7 and win the World Cup for the second time after a gap of 24 years at Eden Park yesterday.
This was not the coronation that had been predicted but ultimately a first-half try from prop Tony Woodcock and a penalty from fourth-choice flyhalf Stephen Donald proved enough to end the country’s long wait for a second triumph after 1987.
“The people have been outstanding … the people who have supported this team and have supported this World Cup — I am so proud to be a New Zealander standing here,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said just before captain Richie McCaw lifted the Webb Ellis Cup.
“There was bit of turmoil up there … but reflect over the last seven weeks what these people have done throughout the country… and Richie and the boys just hanging in there right through the match for 80 minutes to win this match is superb.
“As a day this is something we have dreamed of for a while — we can rest in peace.”
Having been written off by all but themselves, the French, led by man of the match Thierry Dusautoir, answered the challenge of New Zealand’s haka by advancing in an arrow formation before the game and gave the host nation an almighty scare during it.
A converted try in the second half from Dusautoir had the French dreaming of a first World Cup win and the hosts fearing another failure at rugby’s showpiece event against the team that were their nemesis in 1999 and 2007.
“It is a real pity, I am disappointed. But I am really proud of my boys and what they did in the World Cup,” said Dusautoir. “We lost two pool matches but we still managed this.”
The All Blacks looked sharper and more powerful in the early exchanges as the French ran up blind alleys and were swallowed up by the swarming New Zealand defence.
Scrumhalf Piri Weepu had already missed a reasonably simple penalty when Woodcock opened the scoring in the 15th minute through a well-executed move straight off the training ground.
Flanker Jerome Kaino leaped high at the back of an attacking lineout and knocked the ball straight down to Woodcock on his inside, and the prop only had to trundle a few metres through a huge hole in the defence to touch down.
Weepu missed the conversion but even another shanked penalty from the scrumhalf in the 26th minute did not look disastrous as the home side seemed well in control.
By the 34th minute both starting flyhalves were off the pitch, France’s Morgan Parra departing courtesy of a knee to the head and Aaron Cruden succumbing to a knee injury.
The All Blacks continued to look the more dangerous with the ball in hand but France’s replacement stand off, Francois Trinh-Duc, sounded a warning with a failed dropped-goal attempt and a couple of breaks, one ended only by Weepu’s tap tackle.
France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili missed a difficult penalty early in the second half and Donald, who came on for Cruden for his first game of the tournament, put the All Blacks 8-0 ahead after 46 minutes.
The French came storming straight back, however, moving turnover ball deep into All Blacks territory before Dusautoir charged through a tackle and touched down on the cladding surrounding the post.
Trinh-Duc added the extra points before Weepu’s nightmare continued when he launched the kick-off straight into touch and was immediately summoned from the pitch.
France sensed an upset and the All Blacks were clearly rattled as white-shirted French runners charged time and again at their lines.
In the 63rd minute, even the All Black scrum, which had dominated in the first half, was penalised for driving up but Trinh-Duc dragged his 47-metre penalty attempt wide.
France kept hold of the ball but as the New Zealanders grew more and more frustrated, the chants of “All Blacks! All Blacks!” from the 60,000 crowd grew louder and louder.
A turnover in the 77th minute was greeted as if it were a try and the match ended three minutes later when the French were penalised for offside, sending the host nation into raptures.
“I am so proud to represent this country,” said All Blacks lock Brad Thorn, who at 36 was the oldest player to appear in a World Cup final.
“I am so happy for all the kids, the mums and dads, all the elderly — this is a big moment for our country.”