New Zealand 8 – 7 France
Rugby World Cup Final 2011
The most one-sided final in the history of World Cup rugby, they said the 2011 final would be – simply a master class in All Black intensity and pace. As it was, the outcome that everyone expected came to fruition, but the French will be ruing an opportunity missed as New Zealand won their second World Cup, again on home soil.
If one looks at the statistics, France should have won the game: they had fifty-five per cent territory and the same for possession; they spent fifty-per cent more time in the opponent’s half than New Zealand did and only had to make eighty-seven tackles to New Zealand’s one hundred and eleven. So how did France not claim their first World Cup crown? Again, if one looks at the stats it becomes clear: France made seven handling errors to the All Blacks’ three- and most of those seven were in prime attacking positions. It seemed that the French had no problem in stringing the phases together, their problem came when they looked like breaking the line; the man would either knock the ball on or get swamped by the Kiwi back row of Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, all of whom were exceptional.
Les Bleus began the game with the same intensity that cost England a place in the semis. Soon enough however, largely through the ferocious All Black defence, most notably Conrad Smith at centre, New Zealand gained the upper hand. They took their chance on the quarter hour when off a lineout Kaino tapped down to loosehead Tony Woodcock who scythed, unopposed, through the middle of the set piece to touch down from close range. At this point it looked like the New Zealanders may run away with it, but the dismal boot of Piri Weepu kept France in the game. As Weepu spurned kick after kick, the crowd, and the French too, sensed the elements conspiring against New Zealand once more. France held New Zealand out for the rest of the half- in the face of some incredible running rugby from Nonu and man of the tournament, Israel Dagg- with some intense defence, especially from the imperious Muhammad Ali lookalike Thierry Dusautoir, who was the game’s stand out performer.
What ultimately rejuvenated the French was the injury to Morgan Parra, whose form in the tournament has been poor, as neurotic coach Marc Lievremont insists on playing him out of position. Parra’s injury coming after he was mowed by Ma’a Nonu. In any case, on came Francois Trinh-Duc, whose introduction changed the game’s momentum completely. Not to be outdone, New Zealand’s Aaron Cruden also left the field injured just prior to the interval after a nasty hyperextension of the knee. He was replaced by New Zealand’s fourth choice stand-off Stephen Donald, a tribute to the strength of the New Zealand squad.
The second half was all blue. Trinh-Duc made run after run into All Black territory, Aurelien Rougerie began winning the physical battle over the Teutonic efficiency of Smith and the back three of Vincent Clerc, Alexis Palisson and Maxime Medard were allowed to motor. For all the pressure that France were placing their southern hemisphere neighbours under, France still had nothing on the scoreboard. Matters were made worse after the French failed to roll away at the ruck, which resulted in a penalty deep in blue territory; this time Donald conducted the kicking duties and slotted over from thirty yards. Instantly, France replied after some tremendous ingenuity from the French backs, the ball was shipped wide to Dusautoir who touched down by the posts. Dimitri Yachvili converted.
New Zealand now set about holding on and their defence was exemplary. No one can argue that New Zealand have not been the best team throughout the duration and deservedly won the title. France on the other hand will feel that a great chance has gone begging, especially after a missed penalty from Yachvili and a missed drop goal from Trinh-Duc. What is certain is that now at the top of the northern hemisphere order lies France and Wales, with an aged Ireland and an ailing England trailing behind them.