A Fitting Finale For The RWC 2011
By Dinouk Colombage
The Rugby World Cup 2011 concluded last weekend in the most spectacular fashion, as hosts and favourites New Zealand held off a spirited French effort to lift the Webb-Ellis trophy.
A game that should never have been, was not expected to produce the heart-thumping end it did. Going in to their first final since 1991, the All-Blacks were hoping to break loose of the tag of chokers. For France it was a game that many felt they deserved to play in; having lost two games in the group stages, France was certainly far from a deserved finalist.
The traditional Haka was expected to give an insight into the nerves of the two teams, and it was certainly the French that took the initiative. Holding hands the French team advanced on the Haka in the form of a ‘V’, v for victory, a ploy which cost them a hefty fine. What it did do was tell the whole world that France wanted to be here, and that they were looking to win.
Despite the All-Blacks coming into the game as clear favourites, it was the French who dominated possession and territory reminding everyone that this was a final and they would not be taking it lying down.
Despite the early onslaught by the French, it was New Zealand that had the early scoring opportunity courtesy of an off-side infringement committed by the French. Piri Weepu, who had been dubbed ‘Mr. Fix it’ stepped up to take the penalty. Unfortunately he dragged it wide, leaving the score at 0-0. His miss was only the first of many to plague his final.
The French continued their onslaught, and their stoic defence, as New Zealand was looking out of ideas. It was until a lineout 5 metres from the French try line that saw New Zealand get on the scoreboard. A deep throw in the line out and tap down to prop Tony Woodcock allowed the prop to run through the middle and score one of the easiest tries of his career. Weepu’s form with the boot had still not returned with him missing the conversion.
Regardless of the score line, watching the action on the field it would have appeared as though it was the French that was leading rather than the hosts. Weepu was finally given a third opportunity at goal, only for him to slice it wide leaving the score on 5-0.
Not only was the game taking its toll mentally on the players, but also physically as New Zealand’s third fly-half was injured with Aaron Cruden hyper-extending his knee in a tackle. The injury meant Stephen Donald came on for his first game this tournament and a first game in a long time in the national colours.
Trinh-Duc looked to bring his team back into the game with a drop goal attempt, only to see it sail wide. He did not dwell long on the miss as he made another break through the New Zealand defence, only to be brought down by a superb tackle made by Weepu.
The restart after the break saw France with the first opportunity to score as Yachvili stepped up to take a penalty. He dragged it wide, to continue the trend of poor kicking seen by both sides. Moments later replacement fly-half, Donald, slotted his penalty to give the hosts an 8-0 lead and a smidgen of breathing space.
The excitement was short lived for the home fans as French skipper, Dusautoir, led a mad scramble over to the New Zealand try line before powering over himself to score next to the upright. The conversion was made by Trinh-Duc, bringing the French to within a point of the hosts.
The game entered its final stages with both teams in with a chance to win. France appeared to have the last chance of the game, as a brilliant French scrum saw Trinh-Duc step up for a penalty. Unfortunately it followed the route of so many other kicks of the night, dragged wide. Despite a last giant effort by the French, it was New Zealand who had the pleasure of kicking the ball out to celebrate the victory and the lifting of the trophy.