France set out with good intentions from the off with a performance similar to the opening ten minutes in their last encounter here in the Pool stages. New Zealand were slightly disjointed and most attacks were broken up by steely French defending led by their gigantic pack.
Still, a good lineout move deep in French territory created some open space for the unlikely source of New Zealand’s loosehead prop to run in for the score with 15 minutes gone. At this point, most would have presumed this would be the opening of the floodgates and the easy victory that was forecast would soon follow. It wasn’t to be.
France continued to defend strongly as a bemused Auckland crowd became increasingly frustrated that the World Cup celebration they had come to see never quite arrived. Injuries on both sides led to a number of changes including two debutants making their first appearance ...in a World Cup Final – no pressure then!!
PUMA’s Francois Trinh-Duc came on after 22 minutes to give further impetus to the French in attack directing play with some excellent kicking and running with ball in hand. Opening up the New Zealand defence, were it not for a last ditch tap tackle Trinh-Duc may even have scored for Les Bleus on 36 minutes. The All Blacks managed to hold firm and kicked to touch to escape the field of play and regroup as quickly as possible. 5-0 at halftime.
New Zealand’s replacement fly-half put the home side further ahead after a penalty kick shortly after the restart, but France continued to look threatening going through the phases and using the width of the pitch. Leading from the front, Trinh-Duc pushed France forward orchestrating a wonderful move that unleashed the captain to go over under the posts on 47 minutes. Trinh-Duc duly converted the kick and there was just a point in it.
The remaining thirty minutes saw France in the driving seat searching for victory and New Zealand desperately holding on for the win they had craved for 24 years. PUMA’s Maxime Mermoz looked dangerous with every forward move and grew in stature (if not size) as the game progressed. It wasn’t pretty, but had all the passion and drama of a World Cup Final.
The final moments were perhaps best summarised in the face of New Zealand’s inspirational captain; face covered in cuts and drenched in sweat fighting for every ball until the very last. And, so it ended - an epic battle that few would have predicted.
Congratulations New Zealand! World Champions for the second time!
What did you think of the game?