New Zealand finally gets a monkey off its back

THE Shaky Isles have finally got a monkey off their back by winning the rugby world cup title again. They won the first, held in their own country, in 1987, and have been knocked out at various stages of the tournament ever since.

Due to the series of losses, they have been accused of choking. I’m sure it won’t take long for the next diatribe to emerge – that they choke whenever they play in this tournament away from home.

The manner in which New Zealand won was strange; they were defending for a better part of the game and their flair was totally missing. But then they had raised their game to the level of a final the previous week to defeat Australia – whom they overpowered though it was not reflected on the scoreboard – and peaked a week too early. It is generally difficult for a team to lift to that level twice in a single tournament.

Hence, on the day of the final, New Zealand was somewhat listless. The first half of the game saw numerous opportunities come their way but their running game was desultory and the kicking of Piri Weepu inaccurate. As a result of his wayward kicks, they missed out on eight points in that half. The only points came through a try by loosehead prop Tony Woodcock when a gaping gap appeared at lineout time after Jerome Kaino had gone up to receive the throw; Kaino flicked the ball down to Woodcock and he charged through.

Incidentally, Woodcock scored twice in similar fashion in the last game of the Tri Nations in 2008 and Ali Williams did something similar in the first Test of the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

In contrast to New Zealand’s powerful show against Australia in the semi-finals, France had a listless game against Wales in the semi-finals, one they did not deserve to win. They defended for the most part.

The French played a meandering game for the first 40 minutes of the final against the All Blacks but in the second they were transformed and were unlucky not to win the cup in the end.

The All Blacks defended grimly for much of the second 40 minutes and saw very little of French territory. Had they let the French through that chain-gang-like defensive line even once, it would have been all over. Once France scored in the second half, only a point separated the teams – and it would end that way.

But then fate decided it that way. The New Zealand public have gone through a great deal of trauma in the last few months, with an earthquake in Christchurch. Had the All Blacks lost at home, it would have been too cruel a blow to a nation that lives and breathes rugby.

France has now contested three finals and lost all. Australia has been in three finals and won two, New Zealand likewise. England has contested three finals as well, but won only one. South Africa has won both the finals it entered, the first courtesy of a dose of food poisoning which the All Blacks were served the night before the final.

The 2015 cup will be held in England.

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