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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rugby World Cup Final: Redemption at Eden Park

There have been so many story lines at this 2011 Rugby World Cup: Injuries to key players, referee controversies, inspired play by Samoa and Wales, increased offense, the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history and the hopes of a nation of 4.5 million souls hoping to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy. I was lucky enough to have been in New Zealand for almost two weeks, and was able to see three games with my wife.(USA-Australia, USA-Italy and Scotland-Argentina) As I went from Wellington to Palmerston North, to the wine country of Martinborough, to Nelson, to Abel Tasman and Picton, I saw an entire nation behind it's national rugby team...
I think the word redemption is an appropriate one after the All Blacks ground out an 8-7 win over a gutty French side. France was in need of some serious redemption in they eyes of many rugby fans-this writer included. I have given them a lot of stick for their unimaginative play, their lack of leadership from their coach, losing to Tonga 19-14 in the preliminary rounds, and to being somewhat lucky to have defeated an inspired Welsh side playing 3/4 of the game a man down.

In an epic story, every hero has to have a nemesis. France, for whatever reason, almost always seem to come up big against the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup play. In most matches, if you can hold a side to 8 points, you should win the game most of the time. France simply played inspired rugby. They hit everything wearing a black jersey with all of their might. Dusautoir(just named IRB Player of the Year) was a tackling machine, just like he was in 2007's upset win Cardiff. Like the win in Wales, he also scored a try on Sunday, but it was not enough. François Trinh-Duc, in Lievremont's dog house this World Cup, had to come on for an injured Morgan Parra at Eden Park, and he played his best match of the tournament. France may have lost-but nobody will question their heart after almost breaking Kiwi hearts at Eden Park.

Stephen Donald was not even supposed to be on this All Black side on Sunday. Yet with All Black #10's being chewed up and spit out with injuries during the World Cup, Donald found himself replacing an injured Aaron Cruden in the World Cup final. The collective sense of dread at Eden Park had to be palpable as he trotted on the field. With Weepu misfiring his kicks at goal, Stephen Donald ended up with a battle-field promotion and hit the penalty in the 45th minute, which would end up being the difference in the game.

The All Blacks, by any yardstick, have been the best team in the World for the past 7 years in terms of winning percentage, Tri Nations trophies-but the NZRU headquarters in Wellington have been waiting for the return of the Webb Ellis Trophy. The All Blacks found redemption after coming up short in 1999,2003 and 2007. They were the best team of the tournament, and I think deserved their victory.

It was just a wonderful tournament. I am happy for New Zealand, the All Blacks and their fans. It's been a miserable year in the land of the Long White Cloud. Let the celebrations begin...

PS-I wonder if there are going to be a bunch of World Cup babies being born 9 months from now?

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