Stuart Barnes salutes New Zealand and France and looks at the lessons the RFU can learn for 2015.
Last Updated: 24/10/11 2:19pm
So New Zealand ended their twenty four year wait and their second World Cup. France again the victims but this time closer than those long years ago. That 1987 team was a vintage World champion team. Despite the absence of South Africa it is difficult to dispute the status of that side as the outstanding champions over seven competitions.
This All Black team was billed as a possible rival but by the hour mark they resembled more the teams that have been branded chokers. France had them on the ropes as the All Blacks scrum and (especially) line out creaked. Thierry Dusautoir and his inspired back row colleagues eclipsed the illustrious Kiwi trio as the home side hung on until the seventy eight minute when they re-established control of the ball and with it the match.
At full time the scenes were delirious, whether in Eden Park itself or any one of the many public zones supporters had gathered to watch the coronation that turned into anything but that. Many commentators believed Craig Joubert favoured the home side. I am not of that persuasion but I do believe that had the final been played in a neutral country, France would have prevailed and left a proud rugby nation once again in tatters.
How did France, hammered by New Zealand and beaten by Tonga in the pool stages, turn the game around to such an extent that this was an even contest? We may never know the exact relationship between players and coaches as with the England team of 2007 but this did not look like a team coached by the players.
France were cleverly organised and hit the All Blacks at their weak spots like the line out (although ironically the difference between the teams was eventually to be a crafted line out move to send Tony Woodcock in for a try.) The underdogs bit in the tackle and harried New Zealand out of their stride at the breakdown. Deprived of the surging front foot ball Jerome Kaino has delivered most of this competition the All Blacks tactics in a big game were again questionable.
Without any great use of decoys they went wide early and allowed France to drift them towards the safety of touch. The back line collapsed as a unit with the disintegration of poor Piri Weepu. He handled the pressure of bearing Dan Carter's tactical responsibility so well against Australia but the pressure of the final was too much for him.
His goal kicking was awful and slowly the rest of his game was stripped bare until he fly hacked a ball into the arms of the impressive French reserve fly half, Francois Trinh Duc, whose break culminated in a try for Dusatoir.
Henry showed all his experience as a coach in substituting Weepu around the fifty minute mark before the situation further deteriorated. He did not get it right asking the scrum half to bear the entire Carter load of tactician, goal, touch, tactical and restart kicker. The weight of expectation buried him alive and left him looking a relieved man at full time. But before Weepu takes too much of a hammering for his game remember the way he rose to the pressure of the semi final was an integral part of New Zealand reaching the final. Winning World Cups is a squad effort about much more than eighty minutes.
I thought New Zealand could lose to the Wallabies the previous week because of the problems that befell the Carter-less half backs in the final. Had Weepu not done such a manful job in that semi who knows whether the Wallabies might not have gone two points better than France and knocked New Zealand out.
These are the hypotheses. What is fact is that New Zealand spent at least four years plotting this desperately tight and tense triumph. Maybe it was that detail that got them over the final line whereas four years ago they fell tantalisingly short.
Looking ahead to 2015
There are lessons here for teams like England whose short term obsession with winning the next game to the cost of any development haunted Martin Johnson's tenure. When in doubt he reverted to the old familiar instead of allowing younger players a run at establishing themselves as test players. Men like Steffon Armitage spring to mind.
What else can England learn about this competition ahead of the 2015 tournament? Well, pricing is critical. The fact that a number of the early pool games were far from full as everyone rushes to pat everyone else's back and say 'well done'.
Prices should be based upon the quality of match, the rugby culture and the economic conditions of the region. Tickets in North West England should be considerably lower than those in the affluent regions of London.
The RFU should also work closely with the regional tourist boards. The New Zealand boards have been the unwritten stars of the last seven or so weeks. I have not heard anything but praise from managers, players (or at least the majority of them) and the throng of tourists who have mingled with the locals to produce the friendliest tournament of those in which I have been included.
Not so rosy
It has been a great place to spend the last seven weeks. The friendliness of strangers has been heart warming, the wines and coastline of Nelson stunning; the new stadium of Dunedin a welcome addition to outstanding rugby stadia and a final that was thrilling although not excellent.
The truth is that the format of the Cup is struggling. The gaps between the haves and the have not's is narrowing but not quickly enough. There are too many mismatches and not enough memorable games. The rugby itself is becoming too much a matter of collateral damage and not enough of wit and invention. There is nothing to panic about, the game ebbs and flows but don't believe the propagandist who tells you rugby union has never been better. This was a great tournament off the field, it was not so on it.