All Blacks 'can rest in peace' - Henry

By Patrick McKendry, AP

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Sonny Bill Williams and Jerome Kaino celebrate their Rugby World Cup win. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams and Jerome Kaino celebrate their Rugby World Cup win. Photo / Getty Images

Graham Henry and Richie McCaw have paid tribute to the composure of their All Blacks side, after the All Blacks scrapped to an 8-7 win in the lowest scoring Rugby World Cup final of all time.

Speaking in his post match press conference, McCaw said the "the big thing was not panicking".

"The senior players, we talked about being in those situations over the years. Last thing we wanted to do when momentum went against us was panic and we managed to hold on.

"Last week we showed the best rugby we could play, today we probably didn't play our best but we played good enough."

He reserved special praise for first-five Stephen Donald, who came on in the first half to replace Aaron Cruden. Donald's 45th minute penalty would prove the difference.

"I had a wee thought this week, if he came in that he could kick the winning goal and be the difference. He played 50 minutes and he said he couldn't have played 51 - that was enough for him."

Despite being the perennial favorite, New Zealand hadn't won the World Cup since hosting the inaugural tournament in 1987. Two of the biggest losses in knockout matches in the intervening 24 years were to France. This time, the All Blacks held on, much to their coach's delight.

Henry proud

"I'm so proud to be a New Zealander," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said. "It's something we've dreamed of for a while. We can rest in peace."

The French had been written off after a scrappy tournament to date, but as is their way, there was another twist in their campaign.

"It's a real pity. I am really proud of my boys and what they did in the World Cup," France captain Thierry Dusautoir said. "We read a lot of (criticism) this week but I thought we showed we know how to play rugby."

Henry said it was a match his the team probably would not have won a few years ago.

"We prepared to play in a situation that was unexpected," he said.

"I think we learnt a lot from 2007.

"We will keep learning - we will learn from this World Cup

"I think it is great for the New Zealand public."

He was "thankful" for getting a second chance to coach the side.

"It is a real privilege to coach the All Blacks."

Assistant coach Steve Hansen echoed Henry's thoughts, saying the "mental" performance was most pleasing.

He said the win was "because the players believed in themselves and each other".

Donald the surprise star

All Blacks No. 10 Aaron Cruden limped from the field with a knee injury after 33 minutes, joining predecessors Dan Carter and Colin Slade as casualties of the tournament and leaving New Zealand's fourth-choice first five-eighths, the often vilified Stephen Donald, to sustain its World Cup hopes.

France also lost its starting first five-eighths, the adapted halfback Morgan Parra, after only 22 minutes in a match of grim physical attrition and his replacement, Francois Trinh-Duc, played both the hero and villain as a tense final unfolded.

Donald's international career seemed to have ended when he was held responsible for New Zealand's narrow loss to Australia in Hong Kong last year and he was about to join English club Bath when the All Blacks' first five-eighths stocks dropped so low he was recalled.

He took over the goalkicking in the second half and landed a penalty that gave New Zealand an 8-0 lead after it had led 5-0 at halftime. It was critical as New Zealand was left with a one-point margin when France hit back with a 47th minute try, then placed New Zealand under withering pressure throughout the second half.

Trinh-Duc had been discarded by coach Marc Lievremont as France's first-choice first five-eighths in favor of Parra, whose experience in the position was minimal. By a twist, Trinh-Duc came on in the final in the position he seemed pre-destined to play and became one of its most conspicuous figures.

Dusautoir magnificent

He twice ghosted through the All Blacks backline, on the second occasion setting in motion the move that led to a try to France's captain Thierry Dusautoir. He also missed a 64th-minute penalty from 49 meters which might have given France its first lead in a bitterly hard-fought match.

France, led magnificently by Dusautoir, placed the All Blacks under grinding pressure throughout the second half but somehow, through the merits of its defence rather than its vaunted attack, New Zealand endured.

And so, 24 years, four months and three days after New Zealand's David Kirk became the first winning captain to receive the Webb Ellis Cup, Richie McCaw displayed the trophy to a crowd of 61,079 at the scene of that first victory, Eden Park.

In McCaw's 103rd test his 66th as captain and in Graham Henry's 103rd test as coach, New Zealand finally broke one of world sport's most confounding jinxes, a long history of World Cup favoritism and failure which strained the nerves and the patience of a nation.

McCaw heroic

McCaw led his players heroically, as the first player to reach breakdowns, as a determined tackler and as a frequent ball-carrier. When he dragged himself from the ground to play on in the 76th minute, bruised and bone-weary after helping New Zealand repel 15 phases of massed French attacks, the crowd cheered him to the echo.

After surviving everything France could throw at them, a penalty in the 79th minute allowed the All Blacks to escape from its own territory and preserve its tiny lead.

The second half reversed the first in which New Zealand had France under pressure. That led in the 15th minute to an error in defence by Trinh-Duc and try from a planned move at a lineout to loosehead prop Tony Woodcock. The ball went to the back, then to Woodcock at the center and, as the French lineout parted like a curtain, the veteran prop dashed through to the goalline.

Although halfback Piri Weepu sprayed three early kicks at goal, New Zealand built a measurable ascendancy, reflected only in a 5-0 lead at halftime.

Donald made the lead 8-0 with his 45th-minute penalty but France plunged the stadium into silence two minutes later with Dusautoir's try. Weepu kicked the ball into the hands of Trinh-Duc who made a deep incision into their territory. Halfback Dimitri Yachvili slipped in taking his infield pass but France moved the ball to the left touchline, then back to midfield where Dusautoir slid over near the posts. Trinh-Duc added the conversion which cut New Zealand's lead to a point.

Somehow, with their backs to the wall in the second half of the match, the All Blacks survived. The taunts about being chokers erased.

After winning the World Cup at its first attempt in 1987, going through that tournament unbeaten and finishing with a win over France as it did again this year, New Zealand was beaten in the final in 1995, the semifinals in 1991, 1999 and 2003 and in the quarterfinals by France in 2007.

Henry was coach and McCaw captain in that 2007 defeat the earliest exit in New Zealand's World Cup history and both snatched their chance on Sunday to make a complete and public atonement for that failure.

France became the first team to reach a World Cup final after losing twice in pool play and the first team to lose in three World Cup finals after defeats 1987 and 1999. It's performance on Sunday as a friendless underdog was outstanding and denied only by New Zealand's character and desire.

All Blacks 8 (Tony Woodcock try; Stephen Donald pen)

France 7 (Thierry Dusautoir try; Francois Trinh-Duc con)


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