Thu, Dec 22, 2011 - Page 18 News List

All Blacks crowned dream year with World Cup title

AFP, PARIS

New Zealand buried 24 years of hurt by not, for once, choking and deservedly going on to scoop rugby union’s ultimate prize, the Rugby World Cup.

That is not to say the All Blacks’ campaign, led magnificently by captain Richie McCaw and coach Graham Henry, was all smooth sailing.

Star playmaker Dan Carter was ruled out early on, quickly followed by second-choice flyhalf Colin Slade. When the third flyhalf, Aaron Cruden departed the final against France with a knee injury, up stepped much-maligned Stephen Donald to hit a crucial penalty that saw the hosts win 8-7.

It was the All Blacks’ second global title since they beat France, also at Eden Park, in 1987 in the inaugural World Cup.

France got through to the showpiece match despite twice being beaten in pool play, by New Zealand and Tonga, and only qualified for the knockout phase courtesy of a losing bonus point in the latter match.

Sketchy form on the field was matched by vociferous criticism of the players by outspoken France coach Marc Lievremont, as rumors of a rift between the squad and management quickly spread.

The All Blacks’ success on the pitch was more than matched by the spirit in which local people embraced the tournament.

Organizers had promised “a stadium of 4 million,” in reference to the population of New Zealand, and the people delivered.

The quarter-final lineup was all too predictable and made many wonder why the need for 48 matches. Many of the emerging nations performed well in their opening pool fixtures, but, significantly, none of them actually won.

And the general trend was for ever heavier defeats as the grossly unfair fixture schedule, which saw many minnows facing four-day turnarounds, while big teams usually had a week between games, took its toll.

However, the major teams did indicate they would be prepared to play midweek matches in 2015 when the World Cup will be held in England.

The World Cup was a notable disaster for England, who were downed by France in the quarters, but made more headlines for drunken off-pitch cavorting. The fallout has seen Martin Johnson step down as coach, Stuart Lancaster taking over for the Six Nations.

Earlier in the year, England had wrapped up the Six Nations ahead of France, Ireland and Wales, while Australia downed the All Blacks 25-20 in their final match to claim their first Tri-Nations crown in 10 years.

To further boost Australian pre-World Cup hopes, it was the Queensland Reds who won the Super Rugby tournament, beating the Cantebury-based Crusaders 18-13 in the final.

European club competition saw Irish province Leinster win another fantastic European Cup, Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton inspiring his team to a 33-22 win over Northampton.

And Harlequins wrapped up the second-tier Challenge Cup with a last-gasp 19-18 victory over Stade Francais.

In South Africa, Elton Jantjies kicked 24 points to help the Golden Lions win a South African Currie Cup final at their Ellis Park home for the first time in 61 years.

Jantjies did not miss a shot at the posts as he slotted five penalties, three conversions and a drop-goal in a 42-16 triumph over defending champions the Sharks.

Saracens won the English Premiership with a 22-18 victory over Leicester, who had finished the season atop the table. Munster claimed the Celtic League crown after beating Leinster 19-9 in the final.

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