As Andy Ellis booted the ball into the stands shortly after the clock struck 80 minutes, he kicked 24 years of agony with it. Finally, the All Blacks are Rugby World Cup Champions again.
In one of the grittiest defensive battles of the tournament, the New Zealand All Blacks beat France 8-7 at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.
“We had to dig deeper than ever before and it’s hard to get it to sink in, but I am so proud of every single one of them,” All Black captain Richie McCaw said after the match.
In a rematch of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, France came out dominating possession. The action was hard-hitting and fast-paced, keeping the 61,000 in attendance, and the millions of New Zealanders watching at home on the edge of their seats.
The All Blacks struck first, getting their only try from an unlikely source as prop Tony Woodcock rumbled through a huge hole in the defense, sliding over the try line for his first try of the World Cup at the 15-minute mark. Piri Weepu attempted the conversion, but missed, keeping the All Blacks lead to a slim 5-0.
Weepu was given a starting role after injuries to superstar fly-half Dan Carter and his replacement Colin Slade, who both went down with groin injuries. Carter was injured during a final training session before a pool play match against Canada, and Slade went down in the quarter-final win against Argentina. Many thought the All Blacks would suffer without Carter, but Weepu carried the torch on his broad shoulders. Sunday night was not his night however, as he missed a conversion and two penalty kicks, leaving eight points untaken.
The All Blacks appeared to catch a bad break when they lost Aaron Cruden in the 33rd minute. He hyperextended his right knee and was forced to watch the remainder of the match from the bench. Losing a starter is never a good thing, but little did they know that replacement Stephen Donald would provide the difference.
Donald took over kicking duties for the shaky Weepu and nailed a 36-meter penalty kick just four minutes into the second half, putting the All Blacks up 8-0.
The 8-point buffer would not last long…