After 24 years of heartache the Webb Ellis Trophy is finally back in New Zealand hands after Richie McCaw’s All Blacks held out to beat France 8-7 in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final in Auckland.
The French were magnificent from start, when they faced down the Haka, to finish, when they dominated the second half, but they couldn’t quite bridge the single point gap that emerged when New Zealand’s fourth outside half of the tournament, Stephen Donald, kicked a penalty.
The tension and expectation inside Eden Park were high as McCaw led his team into action, hoping to emulate David Kirk’s Class of ’87 in winning the World Cup on home soil. Thierry Dusautoir’s French side had been written off from the moment they qualified for the knock-out phase, but they turned up and did their country proud.
There were no signs of the faulty rugby from Les Bleus that saw them lose to New Zealand and Tonga in the Pool stages. Instead, they built on their knock-out wins over England and Wales to lay down a mighty challenge.
The only score of the first-half came from a pre-planned line-out move from the All Blacks 10 metres out from the French line. The long throw was taken by Jerome Kaino and loose head prop Tony Woodcock took the ball off the top from his back row colleague before steaming through a huge gap in the middle to claim the opening score.
But Piri Weepu’s usually accurate boot was misfiring and his three missed kicks made it a much tighter contest than any of the home fans had imagined possible before the game. Dusautoir, who was named as the Man of the match, inspired his side with a blistering performance and the French pack were the dominant force throughout.
The All Blacks’ rhythm was upset when Aaron Cruden, their third No 10 of the tournament, injured his right knee in a tackle and that led to the Bath-bound Stephen Donald taking the field to make his World Cup debut in the final.
The former Waikato Chiefs star slotted in perfectly into the game and when his moment came early in the second half he hammered home a 40 metre penalty seven minutes into the second half to stretch the lead to eight points. But there was no time for the Eden Park faithful to breathe easy because within minutes the French had hit back with a try at the posts from their captain that Francois Trinh-Duc improved to make it a one point game.
From that point on it was the French who were on the front foot seeking for the score that would not only win them their first world title, but also avenge their defeat in that inaugural final at the same venue against the same opponents way back in 1987.
Trin-Duc had a long range penalty to try to take the lead, but his was the fifth kick of the game to go astray. No wonder it ended as the lowest scoring final in the history of the tournament.
The French forwards battered away trying to create an opening, but McCaw’s men maintained their discipline and their defensive line. France were arguably the dominant force, but nothing was going to deny the All Blacks on their day of days – the World Cup has returned to New Zealand after 24 years!