After six weeks featuring 47 other fixtures, the Rugby World Cup reaches its climax when New Zealand and France meet in the final at Eden Park today.
Fans in rugby-obsessed New Zealand are desperate for their beloved All Blacks to end a 24-year wait for a second World Cup crown since they beat France in the inaugural final, also at Eden Park, in 1987.
However, France were also the last visiting team to win at Eden Park, back in 1994 when they scored the celebrated “try from the end of the world.”
To listen to some this week was to believe it might be the end of the world, at least the rugby one, if a France team that scraped a 9-8 semi-final win over 14-man Wales were to emerge victorious today, having twice lost in the pool phase, including a comprehensive defeat by the All Blacks.
“Friendless” France have been accused of being the worst side ever to reach a World Cup final, of betraying their own rugby culture and being inherently prone to acts of foul play.
However, amidst all the speculation, yesterday saw New Zealand and France captains past and present talk more sense than many observers have managed in the days leading up to the final.
It seems almost cruel that an otherwise routinely successful side such as the All Blacks, for much of their history the benchmark for the global game, should be branded a “failure” as a result of repeated World Cup disappointments.
Yet coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw know the situation having both held their respective roles when the All Blacks suffered a shock quarter-final loss to France four years ago.
However, McCaw said the dominant emotion among his players was excitement rather than trepidation.
“It’s an opportunity ... We’ve given ourselves a chance,” he said. “The boys are motivated, they’re excited, but we’re up against a team that will be exactly the same and it’s about doing the job for 80 minutes.”
And as for the local media attacks on France, McCaw also told reporters at a news conference yesterday: “I’ve got no doubt the French are going to play their best game and you blokes have loaded the gun for them. They’ve got players who’ve been around for a long time and they understand what it takes to win Test matches.”
On any objective analysis, New Zealand have been the best team at this tournament, but McCaw insisted there was no complacency amongst his teammates.
“In a final it’s not about who ‘deserves’ what,” McCaw said. “It’s about who goes and plays the best rugby on that stage, in this game, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Meanwhile, there are concerns an All Blacks defeat today could lead to a collective national depression, both economically and emotionally and even, as has happened before, a surge in domestic violence.
However, one of New Zealand’s greatest rugby heroes urged his compatriots to keep today’s game in perspective and said the World Cup had been an enormous success for a country recently hit hard by the two Christchurch earthquakes, the Pike River mining tragedy and the recent coastal oil spill, regardless of the outcome of the final.
“Tomorrow night we come to the end of a fabulous journey, both as All Blacks and as a nation,” former New Zealand captain Sir Wilson Whineray wrote in a front-page editorial for the New Zealand Herald.
“What a marvellous event, reminding us what rugby can be, what it means to the country and how sport can put a smile on a nation’s face in difficult times,” wrote Whineray, skipper in 30 of his 32 Tests during the 1950s and 60s.
“While it has been a memorable cup, New Zealand should also be ready for the wrong result tomorrow night. France is also a proud nation,” he added. “Win or lose, we will be humble and gracious, no matter what happens. No one has a monopoly on winning in sport. Fortunately, winning is never forever — but neither is defeat.”
Taiwan national team manager Henry Vom on Sunday had a successful debut in charge of Taichung Futuro, winning 3-2 against league leaders Taipower with a goal deep in stoppage-time, which combined with the results from the other matches saw the gaps close at the top of the Taiwan Football Premier League table. Besides the big win for Futuro, Hang Yuan edged Taitung 1-0, Taiwan Steel dominated National Taiwan University of Sport 4-1 and the Red Lions held Ming Chuan University to a 1-1 draw. Vom took over Futuro after previous coach Toshiaki Imai returned home to Japan. Imai, who also managed the national
The NBA said was re-evaluating its training program in China following allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers at a facility in Xinjiang. The comments come after a report by ESPN that quoted unnamed American coaches as saying that Chinese coaches hit young players. One American coach who worked at a camp in Xinjiang complained of harassment by local police, the sports network said. “The allegations in the ESPN article are disturbing,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in an e-mail statement on Thursday. “We ended our involvement with the basketball academy in Xinjiang in June
Coming from the business world, New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai (蔡崇信) did not understand why his WNBA franchise did not have a chief executive officer similar to the team’s NBA counterpart the Brooklyn Nets, which Tsai also owns. For Tsai, it was about equality, so he did something about it. The 56-year-old Taipei-born billionaire businessman and philanthropist promoted Keia Clarke to the position last week — making her the first chief executive officer in the team’s history. The WNBA veteran became the third black woman to currently be in charge of a franchise in the league, joining Los Angeles Sparks president
LEAVING IT LATE: Rakuten added late runs last night to add to wins on Wednesday against the Brothers and the Lions on Friday that went down to the last batter The Rakuten Monkeys rallied to post three late runs for another close win, prevailing 5-3 over the Uni-President Lions yesterday as Taiwan’s second-half CPBL season got started with lower scoring output, but exciting finishes. It was Rakuten’s third win in a row. In two games this week, they seized victory in dramatic fashion with their last at-bat and have drawn level with the CTBC Brothers on top of the table after yesterday’s results, 0.5 games in front of the Fubon Guardians and 1.5 games ahead of the Lions. It was tied at 1-1 early, with Rakuten hosting the Lions at the Taoyuan Intenational