NEW ZEALAND — Hosts New Zealand just about held their collective nerve to edge France 8-7 at Eden Park in Auckland and win the World Cup for the second time after a gap of 24 years.
This was not the coronation that had been predicted, but ultimately a first-half try from prop Tony Woodcock and a penalty from fourth-choice flyhalf Stephen Donald proved enough to end the country’s long wait for a second triumph after 1987.
Having been written off by all but themselves, the French, led by man-of-the-match Thierry Dusautoir, answered the challenge of New Zealand’s haka by advancing in an arrow formation before the game and gave the host nation an almighty scare during it.
A converted try in the second half from Dusautoir had the French dreaming of a first World Cup triumph and the hosts fearing another failure at rugby’s showpiece event against the team that were their nemesis in 1999 and 2007.
The All Blacks looked sharper and more powerful in the early exchanges as the French enjoyed plenty of possession, but ran up blind alleys and were swallowed up by the swarming New Zealand defence.
Scrumhalf Piri Weepu had already missed a reasonably simple penalty in the sixth minute when Woodcock opened the scoring in the 15th minute through a well-executed move straight off the training ground.
France captain Dusautoir was penalised for holding on at the back of the lineout and Weepu launched the resulting kick into touch deep in the French 22.
Flanker Jerome Kaino leaped high at the back of the lineout, but knocked the ball straight down to Woodcock on his inside and the prop only had to trundle a few metres through a huge hole in the defence to touch down.
Weepu missed the conversion and even another shanked penalty from the scrumhalf in the 26th minute did not look disastrous as the home side looked well in control.
By the 34th minute both starting flyhalves were off the pitch, France’s Morgan Parra departing courtesy of a knee to the head and Aaron Cruden succumbing to a knee injury.
The All Blacks continued to look the more dangerous with ball-in-hand, but France’s replacement stand-off François Trinh-Duc sounded a warning with a failed dropped-goal attempt and a couple of breaks, one ended only by Weepu’s tap tackle.
France scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili missed a difficult penalty early in the second half and Donald, who came on for Cruden for his first game of the tournament, put the All Blacks 8-0 ahead after 46 minutes.
The French came storming straight back, however, moving turnover ball deep into All Black territory before Dusautoir charged through a tackle and touched down on the cladding surrounding the post.
Trinh-Duc added the extra points before Weepu’s nightmare continued when, having already been replaced as the place-kicker, he launched the kick-off straight into touch and was immediately summoned from the pitch.
The French could now sense an upset in the air and the All Blacks were clearly rattled as white-shirted runner after white-shirted runner charged at their lines. In the 63rd minute, the All Black scrum, who had dominated in the first half, were penalised for driving up, but Trinh-Duc dragged his 47-metre penalty attempt wide.
France kept hold of the ball through phase after phase and the New Zealanders grew more and more frustrated as the chants of “All Blacks! All Blacks!” from the 60 000 crowd grew louder and louder.
A turnover in the 77th minute was greeted as if it were a try and the match ended three minutes later when the French were penalised for offside, sending the host nation into raptures.
15min Woodcock try —New Zealand 5-0
46min Donald penalty — New Zealand 8-0
47min Dusautoir try — New Zealand 8-5
49min Trinh-Duc conversion — New Zealand 8-7 —