RYAN VREDE writes the certainty which accompanied New Zealand into this fixture gave way to hope in the second half, but ultimately the nation that needed victory prevailed over the one that wanted it.
Only New Zealanders can fully articulate the torment it must have caused into know they are the pre-eminent side in world rugby but not be completely acknowledged as such because of the inability to capture the title that legitimises that claim. Of course an inordinate amount of emphasis is placed on winning the World Cup. But not winning it left a massive void that vexed them to their very souls. It was the national obsession.
A nation’s identity was intricately entwined and dependent in the result of last week’s semi-final against Australia, and later once more as France pressed incessantly in the second half. It is a fallacy that New Zealanders love rugby. They love the All Blacks and defeat would have surely been a mortal blow to their belief in the lovers that had so often betrayed them.
In beating Australia there was a discernible sense that the ceiling had been shattered. You could feel it in the energy in the stands, and you could see it in the manner the players carried themselves post-match. There was none of the arrogance of the 2007 group. Only a collection of men secure in the knowledge they were the superior in all facets of play when compared to their opponents in the final. They didn’t exhibit that superiority tonight, but if ever a nation and its players didn’t care about the aesthetics of the performance it was New Zealand.
However, the importance of their victory transcends the healing of past wounds. There was a more immediate reason – they were simply the best at the tournament and more deserving than the desperately inconsistent French, who entertained more with their off-field antics more than they ever threatened to do between the chalk lines.
Most pertinently it killed off the flawed belief that pragmatism must always take precedence over panache at the global showpiece. Certainly are times where it is necessitated, periods of this final featuring many of those. But it has become an absolute without the unequivocal evidence to support that statement.
Furthermore, like the 2007 World Cup winning Springboks side, there are players in this Blacks side who deserve to have the prestigious title of world champion, none more so than their irrepressible skipper Richie McCaw and this side’s fulcrum, Dan Carter. It seems a simplistic argument to make, but there are just some players befitting of the honour, and the Blacks boast many such players. In addition, their coaching staff have consistently been the best and most innovative in world rugby throughout their tenure. They now have the title they most coveted.
In raising the Webb Ellis cup over his head, McCaw was symbolically also lifting the weight of a burden they have carried since 1987. Belligerence was required to achieve this. They’ve failed when required to exhibit that trait in the past. Not so tonight. Well done you brilliant Blacks.
By Ryan Vrede, at Eden Park.
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