All Blacks edge France to end World Cup drought
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—The wait is over. New Zealand is back on top at the Rugby World Cup.
The All Blacks survived the last in a string of flyhalf injuries and beat France 8-7 in a gripping final Sunday to become the third two-time champion.
Despite being the perennial favorite, New Zealand hadn't won the World Cup since hosting and winning the inaugural tournament in 1987. Two of its biggest losses in knockout matches in the intervening 24 years were to France.
This time, the All Blacks held on.
"It's something we've dreamed of for a while," New Zealand coach Graham Henry said. Now, "we can rest in peace."
The French had been written off after an inconsistent tournament, but produced one of their finest World Cup performances.
"I feel immensely sad and immensely proud at the same time," France coach Marc Lievremont said. "People have always said and thought that the All Blacks were the greatest team of all time, but tonight I think it's the France team that was great, and even immense. It's tough to take, we needed a little bit more."
All Blacks No. 10 Aaron Cruden limped from the field with a knee injury after 33 minutes, joining Dan Carter and Colin Slade on the sideline and putting pressure on fourth-string flyhalf Stephen Donald to help preserve New Zealand's World Cup hopes.
France also lost its starting flyhalf, the adapted scrumhalf Morgan Parra, after only 22 minutes. He was replaced by Francois Trinh-Duc.
Donald's international career seemed to be over when he was held responsible for New Zealand's narrow loss to Australia in Hong Kong last year. He was about to join English club Bath when he was recalled by the All Blacks.
Donald took over the goalkicking in the second half and landed a penalty that gave New Zealand an 8-0 lead. It turned out to be a critical play when France hit back with a 47th minute try, then placed New Zealand under withering pressure throughout the second half.
"There are people out there who undermined my status as an All Black. To get the chance to prove that I am an All Black is good," Donald said. "I think a World Cup final is a pretty good place to start."
Trinh-Duc had been discarded by Lievremont as France's first-choice flyhalf in favor of Parra, whose experience in the position was minimal. Trinh-Duc came on in the final in the position he seemed predestined to play and became one of its most conspicuous figures as the ball seemed to follow him.
He twice ghosted through the All Blacks backline, on the second occasion setting in motion the move that led to a try to Dusautoir. He also missed a 64th-minute penalty which might have given France its first lead of the match.
Dusautoir made 22 tackles for France, which came up just short despite pressuring the All Blacks throughout the second half.
And so, 24 years, four months and three days after New Zealand's David Kirk became the first winning captain to receive the Webb Ellis Cup, Richie McCaw displayed the trophy to a crowd of 61,000 at the scene of that first victory, Eden Park.
In McCaw's 103rd test -- his 66th as captain -- and Henry's 103rd test as coach, New Zealand finally broke one of world sport's most confounding droughts.
"No one can ever take this away from this group. I think the whole country should be proud of every single one of them," McCaw said. "I'm just so proud of every single one of the guys. We couldn't have been under any more pressure."
After winning the World Cup in 1987, New Zealand was beaten in the final in 1995, the semifinals in 1991, 1999 and 2003, and in the quarterfinals -- by France -- in 2007. Henry was coach and McCaw captain in that 2007 defeat, the earliest exit in New Zealand's World Cup history.