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RWC Final review

Looking back at previous RWC finals, there have generally been only a few points in it and only a few tries scored, and this one was no different.  I’m sure many supporters were optimistic of a convincing attacking display from New Zealand, but that was never going to be true to history.

France competed like it was the biggest game of their lives, which it probably was. They had been written off by most, which gave the French an added edge. This is when they are at their most dangerous, when no one is expecting them to do anything. The one area where France had the edge in the build-up was goal-kicking, and if New Zealand had kicked their goals earlier, it would’ve been a far easier victory.

It was not the free-flowing, interlinking game that had seen off Australia in the semi-final but it was enough to end what has seemed like an eternity for a team that regularly sets the benchmark for rugby excellence.

Their hero was reserve fly half Stephen Donald, an unlikely figure who was not chosen for New Zealand’s original squad but joined them after the All Blacks’ second-choice No.10 Colin Slade was forced to withdraw with a groin injury. The All Blacks have to be the only team in the world who could win the final playing with their fourth-choice flyhalf for 30 minutes at the end. That is truly remarkable and says all you need to know of why they deserve it. Donald was only on the field because starting fly half Aaron Cruden, himself called up to replace the injured Dan Carter, went off with a knee injury six minutes before the interval. Yet he held his nerve in his first RWC match to score the winning points in the 46th minute with a crucial penalty that gave his side breathing space.

Interestingly, both reserve flyhalves had crucial roles to play. Francois Trinh-Duc had to come on for Morgan Parra after 15 minutes, and that coincidentally did France a favour. I’ve always thought Trinh-Duc is a very good player and one of the best 10’s in the world. He started the tournament poorly, but that was in a poor team – and he wasn’t the only one to blame. Trinh-Duc is a very talented player, and you could definitely tell that France were suddenly a more dangerous team with the ball in hand when he came on. It’s no surprise that France’s best attacking display of the tournament came when he was on the field for an hour. His ability to run and get the backs moving was very evident.

New Zealand had gone ahead with a 15th-minute try from prop Tony Woodcock that had appeared to stall a strong start from the French. Flanker Jerome Kaino took a lineout at the tail and dropped it into Woodcock’s grasp just as he was charging through the gap left by France’s forwards. But France were never going to roll over and a minute after Donald had extended the lead to eight points, skipper Thierry Dusautoir brought them into touching distance with a try that François Trinh-Duc converted. This created a nervous end to the final for all New Zealanders who were watching (just over half were watching on the TV and the other half were probably at the game!)

Some say this was one of the best finals ever. It’s hard to beat 1995 and 2003, the latter being decided after 99 minutes when the teams were very evenly matched – that was a fair contest! Sunday’s final was also gripping, the result went down the wire and it had all the attributes to make it a great final.

It had skill, physicality and some of the head-to-head battles were intriguing. The contest between the two captains, Richie McCaw and Thierry Dusautoir, was a classic. Both guys were outstanding and difficult to separate. People won’t mind watching that again, and I’m sure in New Zealand they’re doing that. It’s like great literature, you’ll keep reading it again and again. It was surely one of the best finals.

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