From the French National rugby team’s response to the All Black Haka, last night’s Rugby Union World Cup final surpassed all expectations. Most finals are like a woman in labour for eighty minutes, a lot of huffing and puffing, but no real quality action, until eventually someone is declared the winner.
2011 was to be a completely different spectacle with so many other stories being played out within the drama.
The All Blacks had been waiting 24 years to claim a trophy they feel is rightfully theirs. Going into so many World Cups from 1987 to the present day they have been the best team in the World only to fail in one game and come home without the title of World Champions. Now they deservedly can call themselves that for the next four years.
This time around they had so much to play for, the Pike River mine disaster, the victims of the earthquake that destroyed Christchurch, as well as all of the All Blacks who had gone before and failed to bring back the World Title. The pressure must have been enormous.
The final saw their resolve bitterly tested, third choice fly half Aaron Cruden – a survivor of testicular cancer limped from the field after hyper-extending his knee only to be replaced by Steven Donald making his World Cup debut in the final. A man who was fishing a fortnight ago and thought his call up was a wind-up.
Their Captain Richie McCaw was a true leader just as many of those who have gone before him and been afforded the honour of lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup, players such as John Eales, John Smit and Francois Pienaar. He was heroic battling through his own personal pain barriers to deliver what a nation craved most.
It was McCaw who with ten minutes remaining hurled himself horizontally to tap Alexis Palisson’s legs as the winger surged towards the corner. He did not want to let his nation down.
France fought valiantly and showed that they too deserve to be regarded as one of the great rugby nations; many said they were lucky to be in the final but their performance on the day said that they did.
McCaw was asked prior to the match if he had ever handled the World Cup, he replied: “No, you shouldn’t touch it unless you’ve earned it.”
He has earned that right of which there can be no doubt and he has also earned his place among the legends of not only All Black rugby, but the game as a whole.