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New Zealand claim World Cup glory

New Zealand ended 24 years of hurt by being crowned world champions after beating battling France 8-7 at an emotion-charged Eden Park.

Richie McCaw lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy as New Zealand ended a tournament they started as red-hot favourites 45 days ago with rugby union's golden prize ultimately in their grasp.

France, though, delivered a performance of which few people thought they were capable, having lost to New Zealand and Tonga in the pool phase and then edged past 14-man semi-final opponents Wales.

France knocked New Zealand out of the 1999 and 2007 World Cups, and when their captain Thierry Dusautoir's 47th-minute try cancelled out All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock's first-half touchdown, a horrible case of deja vu beckoned for them.

Les Bleus had set the tone by marching over the halfway line as New Zealand performed their traditional pre-match haka. It never threatened to boil over into a full-blown confrontation, but it proved a major statement of intent from France, who proceeded to play like men possessed.

In the end, new Bath signing Stephen Donald's second-half penalty made the difference. Two weeks ago he had been whitebait fishing on the Waikato River when he was summoned as squad replacement for an injured Colin Slade.

France proved the moral victors of a game short on points - it was the lowest-scoring final and smallest winning margin in World Cup final history - yet high on intensity, passion and power. Not until reserve scrum-half Andy Ellis kicked the ball high into the Eden Park stands during added time could New Zealand relax as they became the first host nation world champions since South Africa 16 years ago.

The All Blacks' nervous start was underlined when scrum-half Piri Weepu sent his opening penalty kick well wide. But when Weepu found touch deep inside Les Bleus' 22 the All Blacks pounced, courtesy of flanker Jerome Kaino's clean lineout take that found Woodcock, who then surged through a gaping defensive hole to score. Weepu failed with his conversion attempt.

New Zealand's cause was not helped by Weepu's wayward direction off the tee, and a third successive miss suggested he would need to hand over kicking duties. Donald increased New Zealand's lead through an early second-half penalty, but France came storming back and opened their account just two minutes later when Dusautoir rounded off a sustained spell of pressure.

Francois Trinh-Duc's conversion made it 8-7, and the All Blacks found themselves under pressure they had rarely experienced on home soil as France remained a driven team heading into the final quarter. The closing minutes were played out against a backdrop of shredded nerves on and off the pitch, but New Zealand finally reached their promised land - world champions for the first time since 1987.

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