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Eden Park bore witness to New Zealand being crowned World Champions earlier today, as they defeated France 8-7 in one of the closest matches in World Cup history. An honour which arguably should have come to this group of players four years earlier, the All Blacks have finally shaken off the tag of ‘chokers’ that they have had to shoulder since they last won the tournament in 1987. For Head Coach Graham Henry, and iconic captain Richie McCaw, this is a real vindication of their tenures, which has seen them lead one of the greatest New Zealand squads to ever take to the field.
Tensions were running high, and challenges were laid down before the game even began, with France arranging themselves into an arrowhead, and marching towards New Zealand as the hosts came to the crashing crescendo of the Haka. History is divided on whether or not opposing the Haka is the right course of action, but it certainly laid down the gauntlet to the All Blacks to come out and prove them wrong.
The beginning of the game seemed to mirror the two nations earlier clash in the World Cup, with France dominating both possession and territory in the first 10 minutes, yet unable to find a way through the wall of All Blacks.
Despite the pressure however, it was New Zealand who broke the deadlock, with perhaps the most unlikely of try scorers, Tony Woodcock, going over from short distance. Although Piri Weepu couldn’t quite kick the extras, the try was enough to send the All Blacks into the half 5-0 up
While the first half will not be remembered for any great displays of attacking rugby, two key injuries marked it. The first to French fly half Morgan Parra, who was replaced by Francois Trinh-Duc, a replacement which many French fans may have been quietly happy about, and the second, almost predictability, was to New Zealand fly half Aaron Cruden. This meant that Cruden, quite incredibly, became the third All Black fly half to be injured at the World Cup, and was dutifully replaced by Stephen Donald.
Status quo looked to be maintained at the outset of the second half, with France missing a penalty and New Zeland extending their lead to eight points with a penalty of their own. If one thing was keeping France out of the game, it was their inability to convert chances into points, but this was soon to change.
A loose ball at the back of a New Zealand ruck was kicked by Weepu straight into the hands of Trinh-Duc, who broke for the try-line. Although the substitute fly half couldn’t quite make the distance, France recycled the ball, and after going through several phases, captain Thierry Dusatoir sliced through the All Blacks line and went over for the score.
If Kiwi’s the world over had been fearful of their side choking at another World Cup before this game, those fears were redoubled with France just one point behind New Zealand, and the home side beginning to look very average with around 20 minutes to go.
With the fingernails of both sets of fans nearly bitten down to the nub, the game entered the last 10 minutes, and New Zealand seemed to have recouped enough composure to re-establish their tactical game, and were playing much more of the game in France’s half.
Tensions grew however as a prolonged spell of French possession in the New Zealand half was within the range of Trinh-Duc’s boot, and any misdemeanour by the All Blacks defence could lead to a French penalty, and a reversal in their tender lead. The experience of the All Blacks was seemingly critical, and they maintained their discipline, eventually forcing an France into an error which turned over possession to the deserved victors, New Zealand.