Andrew Mehrtens: Rugby World Cup victory brought relief


I am sure a lot of people shared my first emotion at the end of last Sunday's final: relief. Ecstasy came later and of course there was immense pride and admiration for our brave lads and their coaching team.

But as the game unfolded I was getting some awful flashbacks to 2007: the All Blacks putting in their most stuttering, nervous and ineffective performance of the tournament, the inattention of the referee to the innumerable French indiscretions, and the phenomenal resolve of the French defence.

Stephen Donald has no rivals for the "came from nowhere" award in this tournament, and I was chuffed for him that his 100 per cent kicking record effectively won the Cup for New Zealand.

This is a guy who gives his all in the black jersey - the tightness of which clearly indicates his recent whitebaiting trips were largely successful ones ...

On top of that, to land a pressure goal with a ball he must only have kicked a handful of times, makes me take my hat off to a guy who is obviously popular within the team.

While the rugby was not necessarily always the best, that is finals rugby and the spectacle itself topped off a very positive and exciting tournament.

To me, the biggest strides were made by the Welsh, who played a simple, effective high-intensity game and showed that as they mature further they will be a force to be reckoned with. The win of the tournament goes to the Tongan team over France - the first time one of the so-called "big five" has lost to a "minnow" at the World Cup. The look on the Tongan front row's faces in the final scrums on fulltime was priceless.

That victory showed the power of mental preparation: Tonga no doubt entered this tournament gunning for the French, and in the meantime took their eyes slightly off the Canadians who were targeting the team directly above them in their pool's pecking order.

The smaller teams suffered from an unhelpful schedule and a lack of playing depth. The schedule is certainly something that needs to be reassessed; having pools of five makes it impossible to have a uniform schedule.

The alternatives are to have 16 teams - which is too small - or to go to 24, which would create larger potential mismatches. But the scheduling of five-team pools is ridiculous.

My favourite players of the tournament were the surprises from the smaller nations. We all know how good Jerome Kaino, James O'Connor, Chris Ashton, Thierry Dusautoir and Fourie du Preez are and those guys were awesome to watch throughout the tournament. But it is less usual for the rugby world to be inspired by the likes of DTH van der Merwe and Adam Kleeberger from Canada, Kahn Fotuali'i from Samoa, the Namibian Theuns Kotze and Russia's big winger Denis Simplikevich. Of these, I enjoyed the contribution each game of van der Merwe, who was a constant threat on attack and a real niggling menace on defence as well.

Not all was positive of course and the consistency of refereeing was poor and should be a real concern for the IRB. The difference between good refs like Steve Walsh and Craig Joubert, and bad ones like, well, basically the rest, was stark.

Joubert didn't have his best game in the final; after setting strict standards at the breakdown in the semifinal by coming down hard early on against McCaw and Pocock, he took a much kinder line in the final and allowed a relative free-for-all which overall benefited the bigger cheats - and we all know who those are.

But the occasion was huge for New Zealand, and not just because we won. As a country, I think we showed a maturity and more of a willingness over the tournament to celebrate the event rather than the rugby.

The resulting seven-week party will leave a predictable hangover. One well worth having.

- Herald on Sunday

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