Never has a game of rugby been so hotly anticipated by so many. Who would be the Rugby World Cup champions for 2011 – Les Bleus or the All Blacks?
From Auckland to Avignon, Peru to Port Elizabeth rugby fans across the globe gathered en masse, either at Eden Park or tuned in via the nearest television set. What they collectively witnessed was a heart-in-your-mouth Battle Royale that took hold and violently shook the earth, so fierce was the fight, so close was the scoreline. Minute after nerve-wracking minute the Pendulum of Victory swung back and forth, teasing the viewing audience without mercy for the entire 80 minutes. OMG, it was intense. Millions hardly dared to breathe whilst desperately hanging on to the very edge of their seats, so transfixed were they by the match unfolding before them. At least that was the case at MY house. I couldn’t sit still during the game, almost driven to watch between my fingers at some stages.
All Black coach Graham Henry had commented earlier in the week about the upcoming final.“This French team, we are not sure who is going to turn up, quite frankly, so we have got to prepare that they’re going to be the best in the world.” This statement would turn out to be one of the most astute observations printed by the media. France had not played particularly well up until now, losing twice during the earlier pool rounds (including a shock loss to Tonga) and had barely squeaked through their semi final against the Welsh, who were playing with a man short after their captain was sent off for a dangerous tackle. However unlike the majority of the press who’d written them off as the the ‘worst rugby team ever’ to make a RWC final, the All Blacks squad contained many who knew only too well how dangerous it was to underestimate a French team. Especially during a World Cup. Remember Cardiff, 2007? We were nervous, and rightly so.
From the very start, Les Bleus showed the world they meant business. No matter what anyone said, they were here to play. And it was during the haka, when the French joined hands and stood in a ‘V’ formation before defiantly striding toward the All Blacks in a shock move, that the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. The French were not only accepting the challenge but were issuing one of their own – this had the makings of one hell of a game.
And so it began. Tough, grinding rugby with no quarter given by either side. Brute force vs passion and guts; the blood bin was kept busy yet again. The All Blacks lost yet another man at No. 10, the brave Aaron Cruden hyper-extended his knee during the game, bringing on our 4th backup five-eighth, the much-maligned Steven Donald. Two weeks prior to this he’d been whitebait fishing on a river near his home, about as far away from top-level professional rugby as you can get. But now there he was, smack bang in the middle of the pressure cooker, preparing to face the heat of the World Cup final cauldron. With time ticking away, he stepped up for a penalty kick and cool as you like, slotted it over the crossbar by the right hand upright. All Blacks were in front, by ONE. The rugby-mad public cheered long and loud for their new hero – Steven will be the Duck no more!
After 80 exhausting minutes with all participants nearly out on their feet, the referee’s whistle thankfully brought this almighty battle to an end. The journey was over – the All Blacks triumphant!!
It had been close but in the end, the solidarity of belief held by our boys had been the difference. Mistakes from the past had been learned and nothing was left to chance. The French could go home with their pride intact; they had deserved their place in the final but had been denied by a team who ultimately wanted it more. This was a wonderful win for the AB’s and for all the fans but as Richie McCaw pointed out, it would be held especially dear by the many thousands of people in New Zealand affected by the Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River Mine disaster. Now there would be something to smile about.
|All Black captain Richie McCaw raises the William Webb Ellis
trophy in triumph as a country rejoices with him. So very proud!
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