Much-improved France take hosts all the way as Donald and Woodcock prove unlikely heroes
NEW ZEALAND’S unlikely hero Stephen Donald revelled in answering his critics after the fourth choice fly-half’s decisive penalty ended the All Blacks’ 24-year wait to lift the World Cup.
Donald, who had been whitebait fishing and drinking beer when handed a late call-up two weeks ago amid an injury crisis, landed the winning penalty in the second half of a titanic match. That put the hosts 8-0 ahead, following an early try from veteran prop Tony Woodcock, and although France captain Thierry Dusautoir mustered a converted try to set up a nervy finale, the All Blacks survived for Richie McCaw to hoist the trophy (above).
Defeat was hard on Les Bleus, who belied their status as overwhelming underdogs with their best performance of the tournament, and their last under coach Marc Lievremont.
But it was vindication for Donald, who entered the fray after 34 minutes following an injury to Aaron Cruden, who himself began the competition behind Dan Carter and Colin Slade in the pecking order.
“There are people out there who undermined my status as an All Black,” he said. “To get the chance to prove that I am an All Black is good. I think a World Cup final is a pretty good place to start.”
New Zealand have repeatedly failed to translate their global dominance into trophies, and head coach Graham Henry admitted the result would finally bring him “peace”. He added: “This thing was about winning, and the guys have won the World Cup. That is outstanding.”
Eden Park fretted during a tense final half-hour as the All Blacks relied on some last-ditch defending to deny France another try and a huge upset.
McCaw said: “It wasn’t very pretty, but it came down to how much desire and courage the boys had. We probably didn’t play our best, but we played good enough.”
France, who have now lost three World Cup finals, demonstrated their appetite for confrontation when they marched, arm-in-arm and in an arrow formation, towards the All Blacks as they performed their pre-match haka.
Lievremont was left “tremendously sad, but tremendously proud”, adding: “We said the All Blacks were the best team in the world. Today, the French team was great.”
KEY MOMENTS | RUGBY WORLD CUP FINAL
France show they won’t be rolled over by marching towards and then staring down the New Zealand players as they perform the pre-match haka. The move could earn Les Bleus a fine for crossing the half-way line.
The All Blacks take an early lead with a well-executed line-out, Jerome Kaino catching and feeding Tony Woodcock to burst through and touch down. But scrum-half Piri Weepu, who struggled with his kicking throughout the final, fails to convert.
France’s inspirational captain Thierry Dusautoir drags the underdogs right back in it and sets up a nervy final half-hour when he scores after sustained pressure. Francois Trinh-Duc converts to make the score 8-7.