New Zealand 8 France 7: New Zealand won their first Rugby World Cup for 24 years to send the nation of 4 million people into delirious, relieved celebrations.
The All Blacks just edged out a surprisingly resilient, effective French side that bore no resemblance to the shambolic outfit of earlier in the tournament.
So good were the French, especially up front, that the All Blacks had to do it the hard way with an outstanding defensive effort that just thwarted Thierry Dusautoir’s brave team before a 61,079 crowd at Eden Park.
In the lowest scoring World Cup final of all time, the All Blacks were forced to hang on grimly as France surprised everyone by shutting down New Zealand at source.
The hosts were stunned by the ferocity of the French forwards and the home team looked second best in most phases, especially line-outs and scrums.
The marvellous French back row shackled their New Zealand counterparts, with outstanding captain Dusautoir justifiably earning the man of the match award. No8 Imanol Harinordoquy was not far behind him.
But although France won the forward battle, they could not break the will and sheer determination of New Zealand to emerge victorious.
Richie McCaw’s men knew they had to get the monkey of so many World Cup failures off their backs and they did it with a tough, courageous, grafting performance.
McCaw said: “It took huge courage, what the guys did out there. I am so proud of every single one of them. We couldn’t have had any more pressure there but we stuck to our guns and got there in the end.
“Some All Black team was going to do it (win another World Cup) and this group had the opportunity. But you have to be warriors to keep getting up and keep believing, trusting those around you to do their job. And everyone did their job tonight.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling of being world champions. But the people of New Zealand have given us so much in the last six weeks and now, no-one can take this away from this group.
“They are tough men, they lifted it tonight and the whole country should be proud of them.
“I am absolutely done for, I have never had to dig so deep. But it is a great day to be a Kiwi.”
New Zealand must have known they were in for a battle when France faced the prematch Haka and advanced threateningly towards the New Zealanders. And when New Zealand led only 5-0 by half time, a 14th minute try direct from a line-out by prop Tony Woodcock who exposed a huge gap in the French defence, they surely knew it would be close.
In fact, New Zealand scored first in the second half when Stephen Donald, who had replaced the injured outside Aaron Cruden in the first half, slotted a 36 metre penalty goal.
But France hit back two minutes later.
The inspirational Dusautoir scored at the posts after breaks into the New Zealand defence by replacement fly half Francois Trinh-Duc, who had replaced Morgan Parra in the first half, and Aurelien Rougerie. When Trinh Duc converted, just a single point divided the teams and the final was in the balance.
New Zealand, increasingly starved of the ball, had to defend for their lives to hang on. They made 111 tackles against 87 by France but the French dominated both possession and territory by 55-45%. But even then it wasn’t enough.
Somehow, the French just couldn’t prise another opening in the New Zealand defence although Trinh-Duc had a chance to win the match with a penalty 17 minutes from the end. But his kick from 48 metres went wide.
As the pressure mounted on them in the second half, New Zealand began to make some uncharacteristic mistakes. The French pinned them back in their own 22 with clever kicks.
But they couldn’t shake New Zealand’s resolve, their dream of World Cup triumph. But how hard was it?
“It was World War 3 out there” said full-back Israel Dagg. The sight of so many battered and bruised players confirmed the truth of his words.
Yet had Piri Weepu not missed two penalties and a conversion in the first half, it could have been very different. But those eight lost points kept France in the hunt and they so nearly pulled off the shock of all Rugby World Cup finals.
French captain Dusautoir lamented: “It was a real pity, but I was very proud of my boys. I hope we showed we are able to play rugby.”