Middle Earth 8 – Spoilt Brats 7 : RWC 2011 Final

25 10 2011

The 2011 Rugby World Cup is over. It has been a drawn out affair with too few games that will live long in the memory.

When the euphoria surrounding a not totally unexpected  All Blacks victory subsides this tournament will more likely be remembered for off field shenanigans, unfair scheduling and inconsistent refereeing.      

This final was not the try-fest predicted by many, nor a thing of beauty, but that will not worry the All Blacks who are finally back on top of the world after last lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy, in the inaugural 1987 competition.

From the moment they kicked things off against Tonga at Eden Park, what seems an age ago now, the home nation always seemed destined to end their 24 years of World Cup hurt, and so it turned out.      

Few neutrals would deny the All Blacks, for so long the dominant force in World rugby, their moment of triumph and it will undoubtedly be an emotional occasion when captain, Richie McCaw, returns with the trophy to his home city of Canterbury, which is still recovering from its devastating earthquake.

McCaw, a master of the All Black art of getting away with murder at the breakdown, but a deserving winner, having hobbled through the last three matches on one good leg, is now guaranteed rugby immortality for his plain speaking post-match TV comment, “Mate I’m absolutely shagged.”          

Over the six week tournament, the All Blacks were certainly the best team, but in the final they definitely came second best to a France side that kept the New Zealand nation holding its collective breath right down to the whistle.     

Les Bleus  publicly branded ‘selfish brats’ by their own coach, Mark Lièvrement, derided by the media as the worst team ever to make it to the final and written off by bookmakers ‘Paddy Power’ (who made  pre kick-off pay outs to those who had backed the All Blacks as tournament winners) played their role of party poopers almost to perfection.

France kicked back at those who had labelled them ‘surrender monkeys’. From the moment Thierry Dusautoir marched his men forward in an All White arrow formation to confront the All Black haka it was clear they were not about to succumb to any pre-ordained script.      

They were aided by the pressure of expectation on the ‘home team’ which was immense and very nearly caused them to choke. 

One of the most affected was scrum half Piri Weepu, whose character and gutsy performances had gained him something of a ‘Superman’ reputation.

Weepu, of Maori descent, led the All Black haka with great energy but somehow his ‘gurning’ seemed more comical than fearsome. Now that New Zealand is synonymous with Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’, I couldn’t help thinking that the bearded Weepu had more of ‘Bilbo Baggins’ about him than a maori warrior. In the pressured situation presented by a World Cup final he certainly kicked like a furry footed Hobbit – not even close with two penalties and a conversion that would have settled jangling All Black nerves.       

New Zealand needn’t have worried, destiny was on their side and so was South African referee Craig Joubert – and big time. His performance, of staggering inequality, undoubtedly had a bearing on the final result of this close encounter. It seemed every 50-50 collapsed scrum decision went in favour of the All Blacks, who also got away with a series of dangerously high tackles, making a mockery of all the recent talk about player safety, and were allowed to infringe at the breakdown with impunity.

There is a great deal of inconsistency regarding the interpretation of rugby laws, particularly those surrounding key areas of the game such as the scrum and the breakdown. Too many games hinge on which side is best able to ‘play the referee’. This has to be addressed for the sake of the game.

The end result of 8-7 was the lowest score in a World Cup Final. Few would have predicted that, nor the sight of the All Blacks running the clock down by playing ‘keep ball’ in the ruck until the final whistle.   

In France No. 8 Imanol Harinordoquy and his captain Thierry Dusautoir the losing side had the two outstanding players on the pitch. Either could have picked up the Man of the Match award but it went to flanker, Dusautoir who capped his performance by romping through a gap in All Black defence for the touch-down, converted by replacement fly half Trinh-Duc, which ensured the game went right down to the wire.

It was a last minute replacement fly-half, ‘Baarf’ bound, Stephen Donald who took the All Black plaudits, for keeping his nerve and landing the penalty kick which ultimately proved decisive.

Donald who hadn’t made the original All Black squad of 30, had been away fishing for whitebait and enjoying a few beers, when he got a belated call-up due to injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade. When 3rd choice fly half Aaron Cruden went off injured during the final, on he jogged, effectively 4th in the pecking order, and finished up a national hero.    

He certainly had the last laugh on NZ cartoonist Tom Scott who, in the lead up to the final, forecast a ‘nightmare’ should the All Blacks fate be left in Donald’s hands.  

From a World Cup debut in the final at Auckland’s Eden Park to a home Premiership debut at ‘the Wreck’ with ‘Baarf’ strikes me as going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Donald, criticised in the past for erratic international performances, admits to only signing for the club because he had begun to give up on the All Black dream. His dramatic World Cup debut could well be his first and last international outing, but at least he has a winners’ medal to show off to his new ‘Baarf’ team-mates, former Springbok scrum half Michael Claassens and England flanker Lewis ‘Mad Dog’ Moody.

I hope ‘Baarf’ can stretch to a shirt that will fit Donald. He’s quite a big unit for a fly half and looked like he’d been shoe-horned into one of Dan Carter’s cast offs when he came on to perform his heroics.      

‘Mad Dog’ who led England Rugby on their latest 18-30 clubbing holiday to New Zealand has decided to quit the national team – to concentrate on his role as social secretary at the west country club.

 

 

   

  

 

 

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