Rugby World Cup 2011: All Blacks Win World Cup on Back of Gutsy Defence
They say defence wins games. This was never more true than in last night's Rugby World Cup Final as the All Blacks tackled their way to a 8-7 win over France in what was one of the most gutsy displays in World Cup history.
The win saw that the All Blacks break their 24-year hoodoo, claiming the World Cup for the first time since 1987 and finally losing their tag as World Cup chokers.
But it was far from the comprehensive win many had predicted for the All Blacks. It was clear that the French had turned up to play and pushed the All Blacks harder than they've been pushed for many, many years.
However, unlike past World Cups, this All Black team didn't slip up. Rather than panic and give away needless penalties when the going got tough, they held strong, backed their defence and simply tackled and tackled and tackled.
And that's what won it in the end.
Take nothing away from France. They were outstanding, controlling the game for nearly the entire second half, ensuring that the All Blacks saw little ball. But they simply couldn't crack this determined All Blacks outfit, who let just one try in despite all the pressure applied.
Many had predicted the battle of the looseforwards could be a deciding factor, with the two best looseforward trios in the world going head to head. And so it proved. It was a titanic struggle as each tried to outdo the other, ending in a stalemate, as neither really got the better of the other in the end.
It was perhaps no coincidence that the best two players on the park were the two openside flankers, Richie McCaw and Thierry Dusautoir. Both were immense, as Dusautoir got through an enormous amount of work and was key at the breakdown, while McCaw just tackled and rediscovered his ability to come up with big-time turnovers.
The set pieces were dominated by France, with the All Blacks struggling at lineout time and being pushed backwards in the scrums.
Despite this, though, it was from a lineout that the All Blacks scored their only try—a well worked move the side hadn't used since 2008, where Tony Woodcock wrapped around and ran straight through the middle of the French line to score. France made the cardinal mistake of sending up two jumpers to contest, leaving them exposed and allowing Woodcock to saunter straight through.
The inability to gain dominance up front prevented the All Blacks' backs from unleashing and restricted them to playing a territory game, which saw them look to kick everything back to France and ask questions of their back three.
But the French back three were more than up to the challenge, taking everything that came their way and setting up many counterattack opportunities.
If the All Blacks weren't already up against it at this stage, the odds on them became even longer when Aaron Cruden went down with a knee injury late in the first half.
This saw Stephen Donald enter the game. Yes, the same Stephen Donald who was the scapegoat for the All Blacks' last-minute loss to Australia last year.
But Donald didn't put a foot wrong on this occasion. Shortly after coming on, the All Blacks were awarded a penalty, which Donald would walk straight up to and kick between the posts, a kick that ended up being the difference.
His general play was good, kicking well and defending strongly, making up every bit for that night in Hong Kong last year.
I was so close for France. After a relatively even first half, where France never really looked like scoring, it seemed as though the All Blacks were going to run away with the win in the second half, as so often happens when these two countries meet.
But it was a different French team that came out for the second half, just as was the case in 1999 and 2007. They had a sense of being able to win and were playing with confidence. As every New Zealander will tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than a confident France team.
And they did what few teams have done in recent years, they got the better of the All Blacks up front and gave themselves every chance of winning. In fact, no other team would have beaten the French on that night. The All Blacks tackled like men possessed, and one mustn't forget the influence of playing at Eden Park, where the men in black haven't lost since 1994.
But at the end of the day, it matters not whether the win was by 20 points or one. It is the winners name, not the score that goes on the trophy, and 2011 will forever be remembered as the year the All Blacks finally broke their World Cup curse.
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