Peter Bills on rugby

Peter Bills is a rugby writer and commentator

Peter Bills: France were best side in World Cup final

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The teams battled for the Webb Ellis trophy at Eden Park. Photo / NZ Herald
The teams battled for the Webb Ellis trophy at Eden Park. Photo / NZ Herald

So the wrong team won the final but the right team won the Rugby World Cup.

No, I didn't have too much of the bubbly stuff into the small hours of Monday morning. Not a drop, in fact. But however you view Sunday night's final and however many times you study the recording, it's plainly apparent that France were the better team on the night.

Too many All Blacks had individual games well below their normal standards. Jerome Kaino, despite that lineout leap and pinpoint delivery to Tony Woodcock that proved so crucial, was perhaps the best example. But there were others. It all looked too emotional and important an occasion for Piri Weepu, too. His kicks at goal reminded me of my own efforts on the golf course; the best of intentions but a streak of desperation with every strike.

How beautifully ironic then that one bloke who did keep his nerves under control was a guy hitherto discarded as not good enough. Stephen Donald. What a delicious twist of fate that he should prove this nation's winner at the critical moment.

France deserved to win because they played a quite extraordinary game. When did we last see an All Black back row outplayed? Kieran Read made some strong surges but as a unit, the outstanding Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy and Julien Bonnaire were in a class above.

Dusautoir was rightly the man of the match but Harinordoquy couldn't have been far behind him. Yet having said that, it would have been an utter travesty if France had slipped away with the World Cup.

They played no rugby to get to the final but then reminded us of the stuff they could construct. So, excusez-moi, messieurs, what the hell happened in the first six weeks of the tournament? Why weren't you playing like this in all those other games?

Perhaps if the French hadn't been so busy having hissy fits among themselves all the time, they could have played some cracking rugby. But cockerels with their heads up their nether regions rarely make much sense. This was a huge pity because by and large this was not a great World Cup in terms of the spectacle on the field. New Zealand were by far the best team, which is why they deserved to scrape through the final. France could have lit up this tournament with outstanding, 15-a-side attacking rugby with ball in hand. But most of the time they played like a lot of constipated diners. Sadly, most countries were equally poor.

Wales were the sole exception. But apart from them, too much of the rugby we saw was at best modest, vin ordinaire if you like and in the case of some, like England, just plonk.

Out and about yesterday, I struggled to find many examples of joy unconfined among the natives. Huge relief appeared to me to be the prevailing emotion in this land.

The trouble with this tournament, and most especially the final, was that it would again have been a mystery to the non-rugby specialist, the outsider lured to his TV set around the world, to see what all the fuss was about.

The reason for that is rugby's laws remain so complicated, so intricate. At times on Sunday night, referee Craig Joubert could and probably should have penalised all manner of players myriad times. The breakdown remains a law-breakers' paradise: as ever, players were able to dive off their feet, handle on the ground, enter from the side and such like and amidst the frenetic activity, very often they went unseen. I don't blame Joubert for that; there are just so many laws to administer that the whole thing has become a morass.

But it strikes me that if this game really wants to become a global sport, then it has to appeal to masses. Right now, because of its construction, it can only be appreciated by a select few who have any idea what the hell is going on.

One other point is worth making. I know the idea may seem odd that elsewhere in the world they are not concerned with New Zealand and this World Cup. But such places do exist.

Take Manchester, where a soccer derby between United and City elicited the astonishing scoreline of 1-6. That was a result predicated on a simple philosophy - attack. By complete contrast, New Zealand's win on Sunday night (and indeed so much of this tournament) was forged almost entirely on defence.

Therein lies the difference between the two sports. And as long as that remains the case, rugby will never become the global event that soccer represents.

- NZ Herald

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