New Zealand 8 - France 7
8-7.... 87? Spooky
What can I say about this match. It was the most traumatic, harrowing 80 minutes of rugby I have ever had to endure and I swear to God that at half time, my heart beating hard in my chest, sweat dripping off my red face, I had to go and put my head under a cold tap. "What would I rather?" I thought to myself as I looked at the wheezing female staring back at me in the mirror."Death from a rugby induced stroke? Or the All Blacks losing this thing..once again to our nemesis."
When France lined themselves up in a v for victory formation, hands tightly clasped with each other as they approached Kapa o Pango, flirting with an IRB fine, but more importantly responding to the haka in a thrilling challenge, all New Zealand supporters took a big gulp. Without a single ball being kicked, we knew that the mythical A game that France manages to produce every so often (mainly when their backs are against the wall and they are playing the All Blacks in a world cup knockout) were going to turn up today.
And man, did they what! Every French player on that field equalled or shaded their opposite number, led by their inspirational and fearless back row, Harinordoquay, Dusatoir (a man of the match performance) and Bonnaire. They were mighty, effectively shutting down All Black stars, and in the second half, they grew in confidence as they felt the wind at their backs, the warm Auckland night air on their faces and the sniff of victory. They had silenced the 16th man. They were gearing up for yet another dramatic (and entirely typical) French upset.
How the heck did the All Blacks manage to hold on? Through sheer dogged will power and the fear of losing? Or as Wayne Smith said - through the heart that beats under the fern. Also through a magnificent captain who fought on one foot to the bitter end. While others were losing their heads, feeling the hands of history tightening across their collective throats, as they fell off tackles, missed goal kicks and just generally went missing, inspirational McCaw, the heart and soul of this great team led his men bravely up onto Hilary's step, onto the summit of his own personal Everest. He was not going to die on the cliff. He was not having any of it. (My only criticism of McCaw is that he did not acknowledge the French immediately after the game in his speech on the pitch. I wish that he would have done this).
I live in London and after reading the British papers this morning, the northern hemisphere is distinctly poo pooey about this wonderful, long awaited and deserved world cup victory for the All Blacks (the only team unbeaten in this tournament and the top try scorers by quite some way and playing with our 4th choice fly half). "Joubert had a shocker" the pompous Surrey soaked Daily Telegraph readers screamed. I could taste the stench of their sour grapes at the back of my throat. Whatever paper you picked up, it was all the same. The French deserved to win this one, they were robbed. By the ref. By New Zealand passion and desperation. By our cheating number 7. It was a fix, it was this, it was that. The media were different to the people I met on the streets yesterday and the lovely people in my office today (yes, it's a miracle, I did manage to drag myself into work this morning) who have been very kind and congratulatory these last few days. Maybe it is only morons (like me) that go onto these message boards.....
The fact was, this game was not pretty. But it was riveting and absorbing. Some are daring to say the greatest World Cup final ever. How fitting that it should be after one of the greatest rugby world cup tournaments.
Then, thirty six minutes into the final, and one of the great stories of rugby redemption in the tournament. When Aaron Cruden limped off after crumbling to the ground after an encounter with a French washing machine, Stephen Donald started his warm up stretches on the sideline. Mr Average, Donald Duck they have called him in the (god awful) NZ rugby media and on the streets from Kaitaia all the way to Invercargill. In Babel (the New Zealand supporter filled pub I was sitting watching the game in Clapham) a collective groan richocheted around the walls as Donald ran onto the field. But then we started clapping for the man, encouraging him on, willing him on 20,000 kilometres away. He was our final hope.
And in what could have been our darkest hour, he surprised us all. A searing little line break, a kick into French territory when the All Blacks were defending yet again in the dangerous red zone, and finally a penalty that almost missed, but didn't. The man that made his world cup debut in the world cup final, in 50 minutes had transformed from zero to hero.
And so what of us, the fans? I have imagined for many years what it would feel like to see an All Black team lift the Webb Ellis trophy after 1987. And when that final whistle came, the feeling was strange. For me, it was as if I had experienced a huge shock and I wasn't quite sure how to take it. Then the relief began to surge through my veins and as Richie held that cup aloft his head and kissed it ever so sweetly, finally the realisation that the dream of our stadium of four million, the dream that we thought we might never live to see, had finally come true.
Is Tom Scott psychic? This cartoon appeared in Saturday's paper - a day before the final