All Blacks win Rugby World Cup
AT LAST. After a 24-year Rugby World Cup wait the All Blacks proved their collective expertise, anointed their coaching staff and delivered their gratitude to their sporting fans.
The victory last night at Eden Park against France removed the stress which had hung over the nation since the All Blacks' semifinal victory against the Wallabies.
ALL BLACKS 8 (T Woodcock, tries S Donald pen)
FRANCE 7 (T Dusautoir try, F Trinh-Duc con)
When captain Richie McCaw raised the Webb Ellis Cup, the capacity crowd of 61,000 - and a nation of 4 million supporters - bellowed their adoration.
The beast had been slain, the torment which had followed the All Blacks for the past five tournaments had been erased.
France had given them a greater scare than anyone imagined. It was a gut-churning second half as France sought their first World Cup title and the All Blacks battled for redemption.
Eventually referee Craig Joubert stilled their nerves and those of the whole country when he signalled the end of a chilling contest.
The 2011 All Blacks are the World Cup winners, champions of the world, the elite class to stand alongside their 1987 predecessors.
Similar to the sides' pool match, the French held possession for large chunks of the opening stanza until Piri Weepu made a significant impact.
He won a turnover penalty and then kicked 50m downfield to a lineout where the All Blacks pulled out a beaut piece of practice-ground magic. Keven Mealamu lobbed the delivery to the back where Jerome Kaino passed it down to Tony Woodcock who charged to the tryline.
Weepu missed the conversion and all three of his attempts in the opening half which left the All Blacks without much of a buffer at the break.
The French had their troubles too, five-eighths Morgan Parra battered by a Ma'a Nonu charge which meant, after one sub move, his exit from the test after 22 minutes.
Kieran Read created metres of misery for the French with his charging runs in midfield, breaking the advantage line with every foray and giving Weepu options either side of the rucks.
The French clung on resolutely, trusting their defence would hold and they could ride out the assaults. After half an hour they hadn't conceded any more points and began to string several phases together.
They also watched the All Blacks lose Aaron Cruden to injury when he was sandwiched in a double tackle and hyper-extended his right knee.
His misfortune brought Stephen Donald on to the park, a squad replacement and the fourth-choice pivot making his first tournament appearance in the World Cup final.
You could feel the nation suck in its cheeks.
No doubt the players did at the break, too. The demands from the coaching staff would have been sharp and pointed: Not good enough, look after the ball, bring up the defensive line, get down in French territory.
There was some respite when Donald took over the kicking duties and landed a 36m penalty, but the French were not done.
Weepu made a careless hack at a loose ball from the base of a ruck and only succeeded in chipping it into the hands of replacement five-eighths Francois Trinh-Duc.
He weaved downfield and with Aurelien Rougerie in support, France worked their way towards the line and, the defence outflanked, captain Thierry Dusautoir strolled across.
Trinh-Duc iced the conversion and the All Black selectors sent Weepu and Sam Whitelock to the cooler.
Thirty minutes were left, France had the momentum and somehow the All Blacks had to find an antidote. They struggled.
Trinh-Duc missed a 48m penalty but France pushed on. Israel Dagg lost the ball in a mid-air leap near his 22 and Andy Ellis' kick was charged down.
The All Blacks needed to play territory, Dagg found some with a deep kick then Donald squeezed a smart kick downfield. But France countered with their lineout where they had at least five jumpers and dominated the air.
Ten minutes left and the drama persisted. France came forward, the All Blacks used all their defensive clout to repel them. Who would crack in the brutality?
Not the All Blacks.