WORLD CUP FINAL REVIEW

Well, New Zealand have done it. After 24 years, they finally have another Webb Ellis trophy to add to their 1987 win. And, for me, I think this victory may have actually surprassed the first one, as it was much harder won. In 1987, they were head and shoulders above all opposition in the tournament, they had a very easy pool draw (facing none of the big teams) and breezed through the quarter-(Scotland), and semi-(Wales), finals (they scored nearly 80 points in those 2 games!), and then faced an exhausted French side, and won the final by 20 points (28-8). Also South Africa weren’t in that tournament, so it wasn’t really a ’World’ Cup. This time around the going was harder. They had to contend with France in the pool stages, met a very determined Argentina in the quarters, and then faced Australia in the semis (who could have beaten them on another day). They also had a much tougher game against France this time around, in the final.
 
It really was a great final. Everyone had written off France beforehand. They had been pretty poor on the field, had struggled to beat a depleted Welsh side in the semi-final, and were imploding off the field. The bookies had them losing by 16 points. But they turned it around, as only the French can do, and gave New Zealand a real run for their money. It may have been the lowest scoring World Cup final (8-7) in history but, it may have been the best one. Despite letting in a soft early try, the French defence was immense. They knocked back everything the All Blacks through at them. There weren’t many scrums in the game, but France dominated the line-outs. The French were helped by a poor kicking display, by Piri Weepu (who had taken on the kicking duties after Dan Carter was injured), as the first half could have ended, 13-0 (Weepu missed a conversion and 2 penalties). Instead it was only 5-0, so France were still well in it. The match almost took on farcical proportions in the 2nd half, when New Zealand out-half, Aaron Cruden was forced to go off, through injury. This meant that the All Blacks were reduced to playing the World Cup final with their 4th choice out-half! They had had the poorest luck with this position. Losing Dan Carter was bad enough, but then suffering injuries to both their 2nd and 3rd choice players. Amazingly, both Cruden, and his replacement, Stephen Donald, had been surfing 2 weeks before been called up for duty! The game took on a strange turn, when it seemed as if the All Blacks were ignoring their new no.10. Donald is apparently not very highly thought of in New Zealand, and the players seemed to be doing everything in their power to avoid using him, which was very strange, and to their detriment. Full-back, Israel Dagg, took over kicking duties, and didn’t impress. He is one of the best runners in the world, and had been electrifying this tournament, but his kicking was poor. 
 
They finally allowed Donald to take a penalty (Weepu’s kicking was that bad), which he slotted over. The game seemed ready to turn in New Zealand’s favour, with a 8-0 lead. They now had a more comfortable lead, and France would have to score a converted try to get back in the game. Surprisingly France did this, almost immediately. Weepu put in another bad kick, when he chipped ahead into the waiting arms of French centre Rougerie, who’s another great attacking player, and sure enough, he set off towards the All Blacks line. The French combined well, to put their captain, Duseatoir (who was immense), in for a try. They converted, and all of a sudden, the score was 8-7, with still about 30 minutes of game time still to play. Neither team managed to add to their score, though. Although the French attack seemed to quieten down a bit, the All Blacks failed to capitalise. The match went into the last 10 minutes still at 8-7, and these must have been the most nervous mins. for any Kiwi in their lives. A drop-goal or penalty would have won the game for either team. France added to the tension when they put on replacement scrum-half, Doussain, with 5 minutes to go. Strangely, Yachvili had been playing very well at no.9. Even more strangely, Doussain had never played an international match in his life. Yes, he was getting his first cap 5 minutes before the end of the World Cup Final! Talk about pressure! Eventually New Zealand’s prayers were answered. They were awarded a penatly, kicked the ball to touch, and were declared World Cup champions! You could feel the elation in the stadium (and hear it) as the All Blacks finally ended their bogey, after so long without a World Cup winners medal. 6 times they had tried, and 6 times they’d failed. It must have been especially sweet for coach Henry, and Captain, Richie McCaw (who was also inspirational), who had both shared in the crushing defeat of 4 years ago, when they had lost to France in the quarter-final of the 2007 tournament. Henry, especially, had the targets painted on him, and many felt he would lose his job. They stuck with him, though, and he was able to bask in New Zealand’s moment of triumph.
 
Full marks to France. They did very well to turn their fortunes around for the final, and put in a great performance. I think it was better for rugby as a whole, though, that they didn’t win. They had suffered too many off-field problems and controversies. It’s good to see the All Blacks finally triumph as well. After so many years of been the best team, year-in and year-out, they finally have an official claim to that title. Their style of play is also a great advert for the game as well. All in all, I’ve no dispute with the result. Although it marks yet another win for the Southern Hemishere, the gap between the hemispheres has been shortened considerably. With Wales almost beating South Africa, Ireland beating Australia, 2 Northern Hemisphere sides contesting a semi-final, and one in the final, things aren’t looking so bleak for this side of the world.
 
It was a great tournament overall, perhaps even the best yet. True, there were no, out-and-out, classic matches (like France/Australia from 1987, and France/New Zealand from 1999), but overall the games were better. The best game would probably be Ireland v Australia. Obviously, I was very happy with the win, but the Irish victory really opened up the tournament. If Australia had won, their would have probably been a SANZAR monopoly of the quarter-finals, with only one Northern Hemishere side in the semis. There were also more exciting results in this tournament, with Wales almost beating South Africa, and Tonga beating France. Showing also that the gap between the top countries, and the so-called ‘Minnows’, is also shortening. This gap should be shortened more when Argentina joins the SANZAR countries in the Tri-Nations next year.
 
Wales, for me, were the team of the tournament. They played an attractive brand of rugby, and had a very good record. If they had had a more experienced team, and hadn’t lost their captain, in the semi-final, they would have probably been in the final. And who knows what might have happend then? They should be very happy with their performances overall (once their disappointment lifts) and should defintely blossom into a great side. They would be my favourites for next year’s 6 Nations. Ireland didn’t do too badly, either. Certainly after their poor pre-tournament performances, expectations were quite low. They also had to contend with quite a difficult pool. But they beat Australia, and thrashed Italy. Unfortuantely, they didn’t seem to have enough left for Wales, in the quarters, and were competely out-classed. On a positive note, Conor Murray and Sean O’Brien, and the front row, came out of the tournament looking like real stars, and should be for quite a few years to come. Hopefully Ireland will be able to build on their Wallaby win in next years 6 Nations.
 
England, on the other hand, won’t be feeling very proud of their efforts. Granted they got out of a tough pool with credit, but their shenanigans off the field, and in the papers, were something else! The least controversial incident was probably when centre Tuilagi (who looked to be a star before the tournament) jumped off a ferry! It’s probably a sign of changing times, with the rugby players starting to get the same type of press as the soccer players. The rugby players got up to all sorts of stuff before professionalism came in, it just was never reported in the papers due to lack of public interest. Now with rugby’s wider audience, these stories should become more common. Of course, it could be just the English players, who got up to more stuff than the rest of the teams, combined (with the possible exception of France). English rugby is in a bad place at the moment, with civil war erupting between the clubs and the RFU (mainly about who has more right to the players) and now investigations into the English squads conduct. There have been calls for Martin Johnson to go as coach (for a while now) but the players claim they have confidence in him. Whatever happens, England need to go through some big changes if they’re going to come out of this a better side.
 
Scotland also had a poor tournament, actually their worst ever. They failed to advance to the quarter-finals, for the first time (although they did have a very tough pool). Their resurgence seems to be taking longer then it was hoped. Scotland were one team that really suffered when rugby went professional, and have been in the doldrems for many years now.
 
With the World Cup over, it’s a return to the domestic season for the players. Some of the Irish Internationals are already back with their provinces, preparing for action in the Heineken Cup, and the newly revamped Rabo-12 (formerly the Celtic League). The next intertnationals will be 2012’s Six Nations, and it should prove to be an exciting tournament!

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