Peter Bills: All Blacks won the cup, but it was the locals who won hearts
SO the wrong side won the final but the right side won the World Cup. Well, that was what it amounted to in the end, wasn’t it?
I thought France were superior in almost every phase. Suddenly, out of nothing, they produced the rugby we all thought they had forgotten how to play. Fast, attacking stuff, ball in hand and power up front. Now why on earth couldn’t they have played like that all through the tournament, rather than just in the final? Had they done so, you’d have felt they deserved to win the Cup. But not when they were abysmal for the whole tournament, except in the final.
On Sunday night, their forwards were quite superb. I mean, can you remember when you last saw a New Zealand Test back row outplayed? Thierry Dusautoir won the man of the match award and justifiably so. But No. 8 Imanol Harinordoquy couldn’t have been far behind him. I reckon this was the big Biarritz forward’s best ever game for France.
But the French couldn’t quite pull it off because New Zealand’s defence was so good. And that was the story of the World Cup really. The teams with the best defences went furthest. It was ever thus in rugby football.
Sunday night’s final might not have been a classic, but it made for compelling viewing among rugby folk, of that there was no doubt. And it climaxed a terrific event, well staged and managed by New Zealand and made truly special by the people of this country.
They went out of their way to embrace this tournament, literally fulfilling the organisers’ original promise that this would be a World Cup held in a country with a stadium of 4 million.
It has been a privilege to come and live down here for two months and witness the kindness and great hospitality of the New Zealand people throughout that time. Even now, at midday on Monday, I am preparing to go to another lunch, invited by a couple whom I’d never even met before this tournament began.
They have been so kind, like so many others, and just wanted to say a great farewell. Isn’t that one of the wonders of rugby football? It is a game where friendships are made and very often last a lifetime. I have always felt that was the sport’s greatest attribute and I continue to believe in that maxim.
Every visitor here for this World Cup has been wonderfully welcomed. It has been the stand-out attraction of the whole experience for most of us.
Rugby matches come and go; yes, even World Cup finals. But isn’t it the people who make these occasions so special? They certainly have at this World Cup.
So in wrapping up this blog, I’d say congratulations to the All Blacks for at last getting that monkey of so many World Cup failures off your backs. But above all, thank you to the people of New Zealand.
This is a special country and you just reminded us all of that fact these last eight weeks.