CONGRATULATIONS to New Zealand on their new, and well deserved, World Cup crown.
Once again France upset the cards and brought their very best game to the table and for it impressed every rugby lover in the world. It was a final to remember and produced a remarkable amount of courage and respect from both sides.
Courage from France who, after a their pool game loss to Tonga, shrugged off all critics and concentrated on the job at hand and showed enormous amounts of pride in order to get back to winning.
The respect they have shown New Zealand, after having won the toss for jersey choice and giving them the opportunity to play in their traditional black jerseys, is a mark of true sportsmanship in the ever competitive world of professional sport.
Courage from New Zealand, who could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that France was going to make them dig deeper than ever before to earn “that yellow cup”, as Graham Henry calls the Webb Ellis Cup. They were most tested in the area of play where the heart and character of a team lies – defence. And they passed that test with flying colours and what a beautiful example it is for any player or coach to see the values of strong human bonds play in rugby.
It is because of the strong ties between those players that the All Blacks decided to not give up and win that cup for their country, even though France was all over them in the second half.
The Haka was a special moment too. France emphasised an important word in the French culture, solidarity, by staggering a human chain in the shape of a V and by holding hands – the symbolism was that whatever happens they will stand together until the end in victory. Then walking closer to build up the moment, but still respecting the intensely motivating Haka. It was indeed a big moment and it got France out of the blocks flying.
The early stages of the game were controlled by France, being very active on attack and probing out wide where they had good width and depth. They could not convert this into points though and New Zealand responded with a good tactical game where well-placed kicks had France spending a lot of time in their own half even though they were the ones producing all the play.
It was also clear from the start that New Zealand was going to be a tough nut to crack defensively. Towards the end of the first half the All Blacks looked more dangerous on attack and there were moments where I felt that the French defence was being stretched.
The suspense was far from over though, Piri Weepu had an off-day with the boot and in general play, and the injury of flyhalf Aaron Cruden sowed moments of doubt back in the All Blacks camp.
This got France’s tails up, and after the break, they were starting to look like a team with belief. Their try by captain Thierry Dusautoir was a catalyst in this reaction and a bit later when they got a penalty from a scrum they were totally back in the game thinking that they would take it.
It was here where the All Blacks had to empty the energy tank. By now the French were dominating scrums and lineouts, their loose forwards worked as a tight unit and many a Kiwi supporter, for the first time, started thinking “what will we do if we lose this one”.
It was not to be. As much as France was lucky to be in the final, as much as it is fair to say that New Zealand actually got lucky in the final. This is the beauty of top level sport and a title that New Zealand coaches and players have lived and dreamed about for 24 years.
It feels like the same situation as in 1995 where the Springboks had a meeting with destiny to finish World Champions. During the week I had a look at the photos of the men that captained their respective teams to glory in the World Cup since 1987 – they all struck me as men that have marked their eras on and off the field by their generosity, charisma and leadership. Richie McCaw will do that collection proud.
l De Villiers is a former France international, with 69 Test caps, who played in two World Cups