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Home » Sport

All Blacks Win World Cup

A NATION'S 24-year angst mercifully came to an end last night as Richie McCaw's All Blacks finally delivered the Rugby World Cup to New Zealand with a gripping 8-7 defeat of France in a nerve-jangling final at Eden Park.

New Zealand has been tortured through five failed campaigns since that day in 1987 when the All Blacks defeated the same opponent in the original cup final and the fear throughout the Shaky Isles was that France, which has twice sensationally ended New Zealand's hopes, might somehow conjure up another upset against the game's reigning superpower.

It looked for a long while in the second half that this was precisely what Les Bleus might do as they clawed their way to within a point of the All Blacks in the lowest-scoring World Cup final ever.

But when referee Craig Joubert finally signalled full-time, all New Zealand erupted. In Auckland harbour, cruise ships blared their horns and even the police and 

fire brigade joined in the celebrations, as sirens sounded throughout the city.

Each side scored a try and a goal, but it was the 44th-minute penalty goal of the unlikeliest of heroes, NZ's fourth-choice five-eighth Stephen Donald to Dimitri Yachvili's conversion, that provided the All Blacks with the vital one-point edge.

"I think the whole country should be proud of every single one of these players," said All Blacks captain McCaw, his face alight after finally claiming the "world champion" title that has eluded his country for so, so long.

Yet there was only despair on the face of his French counterpart, man of the match Thierry Dusautoir.

"We lost two games in the pool round and we came to the World Cup final so I am so proud of my team," he said. "We read a lot of stuff that was insulting this week. I hope we showed the world how we play rugby tonight."

Certainly the French had come in for extraordinary criticism at this tournament, most of it from their own coach Marc Lievremont, who at one point described a section of his team as "spoiled brats, undisciplined, disobedient, sometimes selfish, always complaining, always whingeing".

Not last night, however, as the entire French side came together around Dusautoir to take the battle to New Zealand right to the death.

For All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who came so close to paying the same price for failure as predecessors John Hart and John Mitchell but somehow avoided being sacked following his team's 2007 quarter-final exit, this victory granted him the "eternal peace" he had been craving.

"It was something we've dreamed of for a long while," said Henry. "Now we can rest in peace."

The All Blacks opened proceedings with a blood-curdling rendition of their throat-slitting kapa o panga and, in celebration, broke with long tradition by performing another post-game haka after McCaw had been presented with the Webb Ellis Cup.

The French were not shy about answering the pre-match challenge, initially forming up in a chevron formation and then marching forward over half way, in commendable defiance of IRB regulations that command opposing teams to meekly hold their ground. Les Bleus carried that aggression into the opening exchanges, looking far the more positive side, and yet it was the All Blacks who struck first from a lineout 10m from the French line. The New Zealanders split their pack and when flanker Jerome Kaino palmed the ball down to Tony Woodcock, the veteran All Blacks loosehead was astounded to find no one in front of him as he rumbled over for an 11th-minute try virtually untouched.

Both sides lost their young playmakers within the first 33 minutes, with Morgan Parra forced off after a heavy head knock and 22-year-old Aaron Cruden succumbing to a hyper-extended knee. But while the French were able to send on the player who started the tournament as their first-choice five-eighth, Francois Trinh-Duc, all of New Zealand held its breath as the notoriously flaky Donald joined the fray.

Barely a fortnight ago, Donald had been whitebaiting in the Waikato River but suddenly, following tournament-ending injuries to Dan Carter, Colin Slade and now Cruden, he found himself thrust into a World Cup final.

All too often, Donald has been cast as the villain of an All Blacks defeat, never more so than when the Wallabies beat them in Hong Kong a year ago, but on this, the biggest night of his career, he held his nerve most especially when he took over from a wildly erratic Piri Weepu to coolly boot a crucial penalty to put New Zealand ahead 8-0.

"I was pretty proud to get it over," Donald said. "At the time I didn't think it was going to be that important but, as it turned out, it was."

Indeed, scarcely had the scoreboard registered his goal than the French struck back through a marvellous try to Dusautoir after Weepu turned over possession at the ruck base.

Instantly the French swarmed through, and although the All Blacks looked to have smothered the raid when they nabbed French hooker William Servat metres from the line, Les Bleus swung the ball right and this time the Kiwis had no one left to make the tackle as Dusautoir scored beside the posts.

France trailed 8-7 and suddenly the momentum shifted in its favour, with even the disputed high balls falling in its favour. Trinh-Duc even had the chance to put his side in front but his long-range penalty goal attempt in the 63rd minute drifted well wide.

Henry threw Sonny Bill Williams into the fray as the match built to a nail-biting climax while Lievremont made the jaw-dropping substitution of Test debutant Jean-Marc Doussain for Yachvili.

Inevitably, with only his second touch of the ball, Doussain knocked-on and all New Zealand breathed a collective sigh of relief.

For the vital last lineout of the match, the All Blacks threw, predictably, to the old warhorse of the side Brad Thorn and in the final act of his venerable Test career, the 36-year-old veteran pulled in the ball to make certain of the win.

New Zealand 8 (Tony Woodcock try; Stephen Donald pen)
France 7 (Thierry Dusautoir try; Francois Trinh-Duc con) at Eden Park. Referee: Craig Joubert. Crowd: 61,079.

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