On one of my walks to the local shopping centre in West Lynn during the week of the final I was introduced to a group of French rugby writers. They were drinking coffee and gossiping about the coming game.
We chatted about the tournament as journalists do. One of them told me that France had only a “one in 10 chance” of winning the final. With a wry grin he insisted that the result, perhaps, hopefully might be an unlikely victory to France. Then he offered a warning how this might come about. “Richie McCaw,” he said, “should watch out for his foot” (pronounced as in hoot).
He explained that the French forwards were going to target McCaw’s dodgy foot in the darkness of the rucks and the mauls. When I suggested that even the French “spoiled brats” (France’s coach Marc Lievremont’s own description of his players) would not stoop that low to achieve a victory, he asked me why Adam Jones had to limp off the field after 15 minutes of play in the quarter-final. “Jones was deliberately injured by the French forwards,” the rugby writer asserted, replying to his own question. Without their masterful tight-head prop, he explained, the Welsh scrum struggled, especially after the pack was reduced to seven forwards after the red card sending off of Sam Warburton.
The former All Black captain Wayne Shelford publicly warned the All Blacks (and the referees by implication) that they needed to be aware of “the filth of the French.” This was a reference to the way in several previous World Cup tournaments the French had eye-gouged, bitten and punched opponents in their determination to achieve a victory by fair means or foul. In the 1999 Rugby World Cup final, John Eales, his left eye closed like an oyster, told the referee Andre Watson he would take his players off the field if he continued to allow the French to eye-gouge the Wallabies. There were photos, too, from the pool round of the 2011 tournament of a French forward seemingly trying to put his fingers into the eyes of a tackled All Black.
After reading Shelford’s comments and listening to the French rugby reporter, I wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that if the French played in the fractious, negative and cheating style they had during the tournament so far then “all bets of an inevitable All Blacks victory are off.”
Here is a play-by-play account of the final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament, New Zealand – France.
Willie Apiata, a winner of the Victoria Cross, is asked to inspire the All Blacks before they go out and face France. “Under fire,” he tells them, “you do for your mates what you know they will do for you. Kia Kaha. Be Strong. You are ready now for battle!”
Three hours before kick-off I sat down at my laptop and wrote this for The Roar.
– The clouds are clearing. There is a stiff breeze picking up. But conditions look like being very good for a hard-played World Cup final. The feeling in New Zealand is that if the All Blacks play the rugby they are capable of playing they should win by a comfortable margin. So far in the tournament they have been a class above their opponents. There is the fear, though, that France might do what they have done twice to the All Blacks in a Rugby World Cup, which is pull off a surprise victory.
How likely is this? Well, we will find out.
The fact is that this French side has already lost two games already in this tournament, one of them to Tonga and the other to New Zealand. They were unimpressive in defeating a 14-man Wales side in the semi-final. If any other team but France were in the World Cup final with this sort of tournament record you would say that they did not have a hope in hell. But it is France. And they have a good record against New Zealand, in New Zealand. The last All Blacks loss at Eden Park, in fact, was in 1994 when France defeated them.
I terrified an All Blacks supporter earlier today when I pointed out to him that France had a very good 15 minutes against the All Blacks in the pool round. They made all the play and had all the field position. After establishing they could foot it with the All Blacks they conceded several tries and put themselves in the easier half of the finals draw.
Is this all nonsense or is there something in it? We are going to find out in a couple of hours…
Piri Weepu, wandering between the lines of All Blacks like an officer-at-arms, issued the first call. It slicked cool and clear across the night, easily audible from our seats in the stands. The team responded, and in the moment after their first shout of affirmation, it seemed the entire stadium was still holding its vibration.
– a comment from Geoff Lemon, The Roar
In a bar in Greenwich Village, NYC, Mickey Rourke, dressed in a V-neck T-shirt and a blazer with a fob chain bisecting the breast is telling everyone there why he is supporting New Zealand as they watch the haka on a big screen: “New Zealand is always the team to beat. You talk about rugby, you talk about the All Blacks.”
France have lined up in some sort of flying V to receive the haka here… All Blacks are pumped. AND HERE COME THE FRENCH! They are walking towards them. Right up to them.
The Roar ran an online commentary of the final by Roar Guru Elisha Pearce, as a form of talkback reporting:
1m Weepu has the final underway! The All Blacks retrieve the ball and go back into their own half under pressure! France moving fast!
Piri Weepu, wandering between the lines of All Blacks like an officer-at-arms, issued the first call.
ABs kick is up to France but Yachvili returns it into the ABs half – out on the full!
2m France go through the hands nicely a few times and make ground into the ABs half. They are starting well. ABs have slowed it down now. That will kill momentum. France set through the forwards in midfield.
3m France lose ground and then make it back. Parra has been hammered twice in this sequence too. France keep the ball well so far. France are trying to get their speedy backs one on one against ABs forwards and that works well but the next phase it is too slow.
France penalised for not releasing!
4m Cracking pace for the start of the match so far. NZ win a sloppy lineout just inside the French half. They set up a few slow picks and drives. On the blindside NZ almost away but pushed out. Penalty to NZ, France were offside.
Weepu missed that to the left by about 10m. Not great. 22 restart for France.
8m Shortish re-start by France. And they get out of the mess. France look to counter out wide. They push through to the 50m line. France can be uniquely chameleon-like and so far they are completely different from last week. The French backs are going a million miles an hour. Not able to get any clear breaks though. NZ turns it over and Cruden is hammered hard there.
Ma’a Nonu puts in the best clearing kick of his life there. Not under pressure and he gets it in touch inside the French 22.
9m France win the lineout and Yachvili gets a great kick off from the box position. Maybe the first good box kick I’ve seen in a fortnight. NZ lineout in their own half.
NZ win the lineout and France has someone down for the count there. Off the second phase France steal and kick it into the corner of NZ. Pressure lineout there. Parra is the man down – apparently ran into Nonu. I’d be down too if that was me.
10m Weepu clears the ball after the lineout. France sets a ruck in midfield and then go wide. A little grubber through the line goes out. NZ lineout about 30m out.
McCaw has chucked a Cooper on Parra there. Parra will be subbed and Trinh-Duc is on.
11m NZ clear the ball well and France look to run. Thorn smashes someone high and then the penalty is given for someone else not rolling away. Cleared into the NZ half now and time for more AB defence.
13m France kinda win the lineout but give a penalty away because the tackled player wouldn’t let go of the ball. Kick for touch by Weepu. Turned out to be amazing length on that kick. Although the look on his face suggests it may have been off target.
15m TRY to TONY WOODCOCK! Lineout success and Kaino won the ball, dropped it to Woodcock who ran through the biggest gap he’s ever seem right over the line untouched.
Missed kick by Weepu. Probably feeling the pressure here.
NZ 5 – FRANCE 0
16m Weepu clears off the kick restart and NZ get the ball after the French drop it. They get well into the attacking half and are penalised for hands in the ruck when the tackled player was isolated.
Good kick. France have the throw 22m out. Parra is back. They must have found some blood to make it a blood bin.
17m France get a maul going… well, nowhere really, and it collapses. NZ get the scrum for it.
19m ABs win a penalty. Front row angled in and I think the French flanker joined the front row as well.
20m ABs great lineout ends with Kahui breaking through a little. NZ have real momentum here and they are well inside the French half now. It slows down but they get set through McCaw pick and drive. Then they use the backs with simple moves but get close to the 22. Pressure is on France now.
21m Nonu was almost through a gap there! Rougerie saved the day with a sweet tackle. Then the backs use the blindside but get hit over the sideline.
22m Parra is down again in lala land. There is no way surely he can keep going. And Trinh-Duc comes on.
22m Yachvili gets a box kick away from the lineout. Kahui did well and kept forward momentum in catching that. NZ use Read and Nonu to get momentum and then Cruden pokes the ball down into the corner. Sensational play. 5m lineout to France.
25m Morgan Parra is pictured on the bench head in hands. He is shattered. The ABs get a good maul going from the lineout and then the backs have a go. Could have the space wide but the French cut it down and turn it over!
France goes wide and don’t go through the hands or kick and that results in a penalty. Silly move.
Kick at goal coming for Weepu. Not easy but he needs this. Nowhere near it. This time it’s about 10m to the right.
28m Short restart is gathered by McCaw and he’s hit hard. Then Read goes up hard. Dagg makes a dummy and goes himself. Was always coming but almost worked. Weepu then stabs the ball in behind and it’s out inside the 10m mark.
29m French lineout into maul into Trinh-Duc clearance. Very pro.
NZ get the ball wide from the lineout and get to about 32m out. Read poked through the line next. France on the ropes at the moment. Kahui kicks through and it is forced in goal by the French.
Mermoz is down on the ground. Looks shady.
The re-start was a bit longer and then Kaino drops it.
31m Trinh-Duc kicked amazingly well there from the scrum. Jane touched the sideline when he re-gathered and it will be France with a through inside the NZ 22.
France gather the lineout ball and go through the pack but soon knock it on. This game is getting tenser out there by the looks of it.
ABs win the short arm penalty for an early engagement. French lineout near the ABs 10m line.
34m Servat has thrown the ball straight to the ABs jumper and they go wide. Cruden’s knee is bent backwards WAAAY too far when he ran that. Hyper-super-dooper extension of the knee I believe it’s called.
STEPHEN DONALD? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
Wow. The whole of NZ is sucking air right now.
35m The referee changes the timing on the call of packing the scrum. He delays the call and the attacking team gets penalized. France wins the penalty and Medard goes for touch. French forwards make ground into the 22.
Field goal attempt by Trinh-Duc but it goes wide.
37m NZ kick long off the restart and France return downfield. Then Nonu kicks it back. Trinh-Duc pins his ears back and gets into the NZ 22. NZ turn it over and win the scrum because the ball doesn’t come out of the ruck.
Weepu made an amazing ankle tap there. Saved it!
38m Penalty to NZ. They won the scrum and France killed the ball off the Nonu run. Weepu stuffs the kick and France catch it. They go high and the ABs backs run it.
39m Donald smashes it high and the French catch it. They go a few phases before meekly kicking it out on the full.
ABs win the lineout and Weepu puts it into touch. That’s the half.
This is well and truly game on. Weepu missed kicks he should have made making it 13 – 0 with the ABs in comfortable control. Now if the French score first I think the pressure will get to the Kiwis and then the unthinkable might happen …
The All Blacks 5 lead France 0 at half time of the Rugby World Cup final 2014.
40m NZ take the long restart and then clear it out. France gather it well inside the ABs half . Trinh-Duc takes the ball up nicely and gives an inside ball. They are near the 22 now! Rougerie runs well and they are about 15m out now. Penalty against McCaw and Yachvili will kick.
Yachvili misses just and that’s a 22 restart. No kicks at goal converted so far. Very different from the last RWC final.
Long ABs restart and France bomb and Kahui takes well. The kick is made and Trinh-Duc saves the day. Mermoz gets it over the sideline well. Pressure on France released for a minute.
43m France don’t contest the lineout and then give away a penalty on the next ruck. Donald to kick for goal!
Cometh the hour, cometh THE DUCK
Donald hits the first successful kick of the match! I simply don’t believe it! YEEESSS!!!
NZ 8 – France 0
46m France knock on trying to run the restart. Dagg counters and then France turns it! Run back by Trinh-Duc and then Rougerie! He had the numbers but threw it to a hooker! Dusatoire SCORES!
Here it comes. Wow that was a big run by Trinh-Duc who has been miles more aggressive than Parra all tournament.
The try is converted.
NZ 8 – France 7.
50m Weepu is off. Ellis coming on. A French prop is going down for a time and getting penalised and then the ABs winning their scrum and going on the attack.
This is the worst nightmare of all for NZ fans at the moment. The ABs look a little shaky and the French are playing at a better speed for the most part.
14 phases in a row by NZ but they’ve lost some ground and are just running at set French defenders for the most part. Now Nonu loses the ball.
55m I wonder how that phase play hurt the French in terms of tiring or hurt the ABs because they went nowhere. France win their scrum and go to kick but it bounces off an All Black. French lineout inside their 10m line.
56m Long kick by the French and then a kick back from Dagg. He is playing well from the back. French lineout just inside the attacking half. They win it and get slow ball as the jumper was pulled down.
Have France been playing dead all tournament?
The French performance is like nothing they’ve done in the comp. The ABs are a little rattled.
58m France grubber it into the NZ corner and Dagg has to kick it out at the 22. The French have all the field position now. It’s going to be hard work for the ABs to hold them out. NZ had chances in the first half and it didn’t work out. Now France have a go.
France lose the ball forward around the ABs 22m line. Scrum to come. ABs get a scrum penalty and clear the ball to the halfway mark.
61m France win a lineout from NZ. Then go wide after a Dusatoire run and kick it inside the ABs 10m line.
Kick high is won unconvincingly by France and Medard is hammered hard. The ABs turn it over. Hore did that. On the counter it’s almost away down the blind side for NZ but they go out.
64m There is a big hit by Kaino on a French guy. France keeps the ball because the ref blows the ruck before the ABs finalise the turnover.
This is too tense now. The ABs need to kick better. Their punts are average.
France win the penalty there at the scrum! Kick will be 49m.
Trinh-Duc is kicking this one. That was a rubbish run-up, poor body position and a shank of a kick.
This is killing me! Can’t stand the tension!
66m Long NZ restart. Then a high Trinh-Duc bomb which is re-gathered well by the French. They have good field position but knock it on. Then Ellis tries a sneaky little kick but it is charged down. Back to the knock on.
68m Great kick from a scrum by Donald. Then France kick high but it goes nowhere. ABs can’t gather the ball in. French are attacking near the halfway. Dusatoire does well taking the ball while getting hit. France aren’t going far but keeping possession well.
Then they kick high and it’s inside the 22. Dagg marks well.
69m France win their lineout and Yachvili clears. Donald kicks back to inside the French 22.
We are well into the 10th round of a 12 round fight now. Hard stuff where one unguarded punch could end it.
71m France win their lineout and go wide with a few risky passes. Then it is finally over the sideline with McCaw making some good tackles.
This is for 2007 and the Rainbow Warrior!
73m France win the lineout again! NZ losing their set pieces. Going wide France get over the halfway and put NZ under pressure. The ABs can’t give away a penalty. This is exciting.
The next scorer wins the World Cup!
74m France I think are playing tight because they sense this is their one chance to hold the game in their hands – literally. A missed tackle or a penalty could be the game-breaker.
Kieran Read has made a wonderful tackle but France somehow keep the ball. Amazing!
75m 15 phases from France. This is brutal defence by the ABs! France win the scrum because the ball didn’t come out of a ruck.
SBW is coming on for Nonu. France are bringing off Yachvili too. Wow – big call! With so little time left this could be crucial. THE REPLACEMENT IS ON DEBUT! WHAT THE?
76m Aurelien Rougerie breaks a Smith tackle and then finally at the next ruck there is a knock-on. Wow! McCaw was there making his presence felt again. France may have given away the World Cup final with that loss of possession.
77m NZ win the scrum and go through a few forward phases.
Slowly does it here. Trying to wind down the clock.
79m NZ gets a penalty and kick for touch. They really need this lineout.
Brad Thorn takes the lineout!
Mauling it downfield the ABs.
Time is almost up! Now they need to get it out!
Penalty at the ruck. And that is it. NEW ZEALAND WIN!!!!!!
New Zealand 8 – France 7
A photographer from The New Zealand Herald captures a shot of three women, one with a Batman mask on and another with a black bandana, holding up a sign at the moment of victory: THIS IS FOR 2007 AND FOR THE RAINBOW WARRIOR!
The chairman of the NZRU Mike Eagle and the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key were standing in the tunnel waiting for the final whistle to blow. What is happening on the field is out of sight to them. They exchange small talk to relieve the tension. “If we hear a huge cheer,” Eagle says, “we are all right. But if it’s a muffled one I think we are in trouble.”
“My heart is racing,” Key replies, “it’s beating so hard it’s almost coming out.”
When the crowd cheers Key during the presentation, Eagle tells him: “You’ve just won the election.”
Scientists from Auckland University buried a seismometer 25 metres beneath Eden Park. The instrument usually measures seismic waves generated by earthquakes. An article by Amelia Wade in The New Zealand Herald noted that there was a spike in the seismic waves as the haka was performed. The first peak came with the kick-off. Another peak came with Tony Woodcock’s try. In the 14th minute there was a smaller spike when Piri Weepu missed the conversion. There was an enormous peak when France missed a penalty kick late in the match. For those last 20 minutes no seismic waves were created. The highest point in the measurements came when the All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw, was handed the Webb Ellis trophy and raised it high in the air.
At that moment, with the delirious crowd stamping their feet on the concrete in exultation and chanting rolling choruses of “All Blacks! All Blacks! ALL BLACKS!” the seismic waves recorded a sort of a mini-earthquake at the ground, at a remarkable level of a 1000th of the 2.9. This is about the level of a real earthquake that had struck Auckland in July.
When he was a teenager, Richie McCaw, had a chat with one of his uncles about his future in rugby. A list was drawn up of goals that McCaw should aim to achieve. The last of the goals was: “To be a great All Black.” The uncle then suggested that McCaw sign the document as “Richie McCaw, Great All Black.” The youngster could not bring himself to indulge in such hubris. He settled on signing the document: “Richie McCaw G.A.B
Sir Graham Henry is adamant that the 2011 Rugby World Cup would not have been won without Richie McCaw. In the final, the All Blacks captain was in the first three to 45 breakdowns, was the leading All Black tackler with 15 and two assists, and he carried the ball six times for 15m. McCaw played with a stress fracture in his foot that created constant pain when he jumped in the lineouts, made tackles and ran with the ball.
Forget the initials G.A.B, Richie McCaw sealed for prosperity his right to spell out in capital letters his ambition to be A Great All Black by delivering one of the greatest performances, physically and tactically, of any All Blacks captain at any time in any Test.
In his rugbiography, The Open Side, written with Greg McGee, McCaw provides a fascinating insight into the games within the game of the last 38 minutes of play of the final, with the score line a nail-biting 8–7 in favour of the All Blacks.
“That’s a goddam age,” he tells himself.
At the restart he sees that Kieran Read and Ali Williams have lined out to the right. None of the big French forwards go across to mark them. He indicates the space to Piri Weepu and yells at him: “Go go go!” Weepu, rushed, kicks out on the full. McCaw immediately realises that he has made a mistake. “I’ve done what I told the team not to do,” he thinks. He realises he has panicked, and has lost it for a moment.
It is time for him to do some Blue Hat thinking.
He senses a change in the mood of the crowd. There is no longer the expectation of victory.
He misses a tackle on Maxime Mermoz and then redeems himself by forcing Lionel Nallett to knock on 15 metres from the All Blacks’ tryline. There are 20 minutes to go. For McCaw, “it feels like we’ve been here forever.”
Trinh-Duc lines up a penalty shot a goal. McCaw sees the kicker smile. Is this a sign of over-confidence? He needs to have a plan if the kick succeeds. He tells himself there’ll be time to come back” if the kick goes over. The kick misses.
The All Blacks are penalised again. “Start again,’ McCaw tell himself as he runs to the lineout. The French go wide. McCaw sprints across the field to stop a rolling maul. He is at the bottom of the ruck when the ball goes out. “Was that the moment when we turned the tide?” he asks himself.
The French run back Andy Ellis’ kick. McCaw tackles Dusautoir. “Get the ball. Break the cycle,” he tells himself.
McCaw calls for D from his players, calm defence and no penalties. He can see the French pick-and-go. Part of him admires the logic and brilliant execution of the drives towards the All Blacks tryline. It’s how he would play. He appeals for a knock on. Craig Joubert rules play on.
McCaw and Ellis are calling to the players, and making sure that Joubert hears them, not to give away penalties. McCaw gets a hand on the ball at a ruck and is cleaned out.
There is pressure on the French, too, McCaw thinks. That is one of the lessons he has learnt from the Cardiff debacle in the Rugby World Cup in 2007. The longer the deficit lasts for France, the harder the screws start to tighten. The French launch another assault. McCaw is tempted to make a steal and is belted off the ball. There are 15 phases of trench warfare from France. Ellis is screaming at the players: “Hands off! Get out of there!”
Joubert whistles. A French scrum. McCaw can’t feel his injured foot any more. Yachvili is replaced at halfback by Jean-Marc Doussain, who is playing his first Test. Maybe he has a special play, McCaw thinks, the All Blacks haven’t seen before. So he watches carefully the alignment of the French backs as the pack go into the scrum. From the scrum the ball is moved to Rougerie. He is isolated. McCaw drives forward over him. He does enough before he is clattered to put the new half back off. Doussain fumbles.
In the mess of the ruck McCaw feels a hand, “like a claw,” scratching across his face looking for his eyes. He is bleeding from the nose and ear. He can’t see out of his left eye. He tells himself: “Keep getting up. Get up!” He tells Joubert he has been gouged. Joubert tells him he didn’t see it. He notices a look of desperation now in the eyes of Dusautoir.
While he is on the ground being attended to, the coaching staff send out a message for Stephen Donald to kick downfield. Conrad Smith sees the space seen from the coaching box has gone. Smith tells McCaw. McCaw tells Read to “take the ball up” from the scrum. McCaw cleans out the ruck keeping his hands off the ball. He looks across to Joubert to check whether the All Blacks have to play the ball. He picks the ball up and gets smashed. Ellis is telling the forwards who is next to take it up. McCaw again. He almost fumbles. And then is smashed.
Desperate to get their hands on the ball, France give away a penalty. Finally. It is too far out to kick for goal. “We can’t give France the ball back,” McCaw tells himself. He tells Donald to kick for touch. “Make sure it goes out,” he orders.
The leadership group has a quick meeting. What is the lineout call needed now? The most secure throw is to Brad Thorn. Andrew Hore hits his target Brad Thorn, lifted by Ali Williams. There is a constant wall of sound. McCaw is under a heap of bodies as the All Blacks drive the ball forward. “Get it out of the maul. Get it out!” he roars. He tries to crawl away.
McCaw hears Smith screaming to Ellis: “Time’s up… Put the fucking thing out!”
Joubert blasts his whistle. Penalty to the All Blacks! The crowd is going wild. The All Blacks bench is jumping. The players on the field are celebrating.
“Time’s up… Put the fucking thing out!”
Slow down, McCaw tells everyone. “Is it over?” Yes!
Then he tells Ellis to kick it out. McCaw raises his arm as Joubert blows full-time. McCaws tells himself as the ball is booted away into the crowd: “It’s finished. I can stop. I don’t have to do this any more.”
Critics of the All Blacks, especially the British and French rugby writers, were quick to put a vicious spin on the final: France were cheated out of their victory by a biased referee, the South African Craig Joubert.
Some facts should kill off this lie. The penalty count was 10–7 in favour of the All Blacks. This statistic reflected the truth that the All Blacks dominated the first hour of the final. And France dominated the last 30 minutes of the final, except for the final minutes where they gave away a couple of penalties in a desperate effort to get the ball off the All Blacks. The All Blacks made 121 tackles (missing 13) and France made 129 tackles (missing 16). This is an indication that they had slightly the better of play in the final.
The truth is that Joubert awarded fewer penalties than any other referee in a World Cup final. The ball was in play almost 39 minutes, the most of any World Cup final. Joubert was up to the physical and mental challenge that an open and fast match, with so much at stake, required from him as the referee. He was at every ruck and maul. He ruled only on what was clear and obvious. Richie McCaw’s claim that he had been eye-gouged was turned down because Joubert didn’t see the incident, even though it was clear something had happened to the eyes of the All Blacks captain.
France had two kickable penalties in the second half, either of which could have won the final. Both of them were missed. The All Blacks were awarded only one kickable penalty in the second half which Stephen Donald converted. It took professionalism and some courage to award France a final kickable penalty with only 17 minutes of play remaining. If this penalty had been kicked, as it should have been, the All Blacks would have found themselves playing catch-up rugby, something they could not pull off at Cardiff against France in 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final. This penalty is conclusive proof of Joubert’s impartiality. He knew the crowd would get nasty and New Zealanders would forever denigrate him if France had converted the kick. His duty as a referee to the laws of the game was steadfast.
France had put intense pressure on the All Blacks scrum and forced it go down. Penalty to France! Fred Allen, the famous All Blacks coach, who was sitting in the stands, could not bear to watch. He held his head in his hands. There was a deathly hush in the crowd. Then there was an eruption of noise when the kick missed.
Awarding the penalty was Craig Joubert’s finest moment in a splendid refereeing performance. He demonstrated with that decision that he had the mentality of a true referee, in the tradition of his late father, a referee he had grown up admiring.
The former New Zealand Test referee Kelvin Deaker kept a close and sometimes caustic eye on the referees during the tournament. He had nothing but praise for Joubert: “If Sunday night proved one thing, it is that the right referee was in charge. Craig Joubert was the referee of the tournament by some distance.” Deaker picked up, too, on the technical aspect that Joubert choose to use verbal warnings on the run rather than the whistle. This approach “allowed by France and New Zealand to recycle possession… I liked the fact that the game was there for the players to win or lose.”
Sun-Tzu, the legendary Chinese military philosopher whose mantras are much admired by rugby coaches, noted that “the battle is won before it is fought.”
Preparation to win, in essence, is the crucial factor in winning. Richie McCaw’s heroics and those of his team were the fulfilment of a preparation for the Rugby World Cup victory that Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen (the dream team of coaches) started as soon as they were re-appointed as the All Blacks coaches following the debacle at RWC 2007.
They started with a conference of all the stake-holders in the All Blacks campaign to work out a plan to win the next World Cup in 2011.
The conference started with the famously forthright rugby league coach Wayne Bennett walking to the microphone and fixing the newly-appointed coaches, Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, in a ferocious glare: “I don’t know why the fuck you’re sitting there and still got your jobs.”
Then he paused before continuing: “I wouldn’t be giving any of you your fucking jobs back.” He turned his attention to Steve (Tew, CEO of the NZRU) and Jock (Hobbs, chairman of the NZRU). “But you bastards have got balls. At least you’ve fucking done something different.”
“I wouldn’t be giving any of you your fucking jobs back” – Wayne Bennett
The honesty inspired by the Bennett outburst created an environment at the conference where every aspect of the All Blacks system was scrutinised, critiqued and either included in the plan or discarded. Facts were to inform the plan rather than hunches and guesses. Famously, the engine of the plan was the concept that it had to be fearless and detailed in the notion: Expect the unexpected.
Wayne Smith, who is fascinated by the impact of technology on coaching methods and practice, found Ken Quarrie, a Ph.D in statistics, who understood the Money Ball philosophy. Quarrie produced new information on every aspect of the All Blacks’ play by rigorously quantifying the effectiveness of everything that happened on a rugby field. Smith and Quarrie worked in secret, at least as far as other rugby countries were concerned. The New Zealand Rugby Union refused to allow Mark Reason, a rugby writer, to interview Quarrie during the World Cup tournament.
The Quarrie statistics were the All Blacks’ equivalent of breaking the Enigma Code. Quarrie revealed that analysis of Conrad Smith, for instance, showed that he was very good at making tackles that forced turnovers. This information was useful in ensuring that Conrad Smith started in the centres ahead of, say, Sonny Bill Williams.
Ma’a Nonu did not compete when he chased for high balls but Israel Dagg did. Why? Because the Quarrie analysis showed that the powerful Nonu was more effective tackling a catcher and turning him than contesting for the ball. The lighter and more flexible Dagg was stronger in the air than he was on the ground.
The Money Ball statistical analysis method influenced the training sessions of the All Blacks. They were done at pace, the pace of a real match. They were relatively short, again about the 80-minutes of a match. They involved a lot of repetition of specific drills. Every player had time with ball drills. Every player had to do contact work. The point here was that for the “no numbers on your back” method of the All Blacks, all the players had to run, pass, make tackles and clean out rucks. All this goes back, in fact, to the “all backs” nick-name that some British journalists gave to Dave Gallaher’s 1905/06 All Blacks.
In his book Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business of Life, James Kerr, a British businessman, provided some of the secrets of Graham Henry’s All Blacks (not revealed in his own book, curiously) that came out of that fraught meeting opened by Wayne Bennett:
Follow The Spearhead: There was an unofficial policy of No Dickheads. Players were selected for their character over their talent.
Pass The Ball: Central to the All Blacks’ plan was the development of leadership groups. Management was literally and metaphorically handed over to the players. On game day the team consists of “one captain and 15 players.”
Create A Haka: A new haka, Kapa O Pango was created to identify a new All Blacks side from that of 2003 by invoking a past ritual that looked into the future.
Sweep The Sheds: After each Test, even after the Rugby World Cup final, senior members of the All Blacks swept up their locker room. The point here was to ground the players to accept that the All Blacks system was holistic. Better people made better players.
So the last act of the All Blacks at Eden Park some hours after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament, with only a few stadium lights glimmering in the darkness, was to take out some brooms and quietly sweep up the debris and rubbish that a successful dressing room accumulates. This gesture had a poignant connection with the way the same senior players had pitched in with friends and neighbours clean up the mess left in the houses and streets of Christchurch after the earthquake.
The All Blacks used two hakas in the 2011 World Cup tournament. Against several teams in the pool rounds they performed the traditional “Ka Mate, Ka Mate” haka composed by Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa. This haka was first used by Dave Gallaher’s All Blacks on their 1905/06 tour of the United Kingdom and France. But in the finals, and in both matches against France, the pool round and the final, the All Blacks used the “Kapa o Pango” haka.
The last act of the All Blacks at Eden Park was to quietly sweep up the debris and rubbish a successful dressing room accumulates
This was a haka specifically written for Graham Henry’s All Blacks in 2005 by Derek Lardelli of Ngati Porou.
The “Kapa o Pango” haka was initially infamous because of the throat-slitting motion used at its conclusion. For the World Cup final, the gesture was modified with a slashing motion across the heart to indicate the drawing of hauora (breathe), the pushing of life into the hearts and lungs of the players.
Unknown to virtually everyone outside the All Blacks camp was the fact that the words of this haka were acutely relevant to the players and a nation that had endured the horrors of a several recent earthquakes and a terrible mine disaster. New Zealand is celebrated in the haka as “a land that rumbles.” Celebrated is the key word here. The haka acknowledges that New Zealanders live on the edge, literally, of disaster. They can be tested as a people by the fates at any time.
New Zealand is celebrated in the haka as “a land that rumbles.”
The message of the haka is that by embracing the probability of the land rumbling into an earthquake, New Zealanders also embrace the challenge to conquer whatever calamity is thrown up against them.
Kapa o Pango kia whakawhenua au I ahau! (All Blacks, let me become one with the land)
Hi aue, hi! (This is our land that rumbles)
Au, au, aue ha! (It’s our time! It’s our moment!)
Ko Kapa o Pango e ngunguru nei (This defines us as All Blacks)
Au, au, aue ha! (It’s our time! It’s our moment!)
Ka tu te ihiihi (Our dominance)
Ka tut e wanawana (Our supremacy will triumph)
Ki runga kit e rangi e tu iho nei, tu iho nei, hi! (And be placed on high)
Ponga ra! (Silver fern!)
Kapa o Pango, aue hi! (All Blacks!)
Ponga ra! (Silver fern!)
Kapa o Pango, aue hi, ha! (All Blacks!)
We leave the 2011 World Cup-winning All Blacks in their last couple of days together as a team as they take the Webb Ellis Cup through “our land that rumbles” to Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
In Christchurch, the procession started near the iconic but now shattered Cathedral. The Cathedral is a metaphor for the challenges earthquakes have created for the city of Christchurch. The first damage to the Cathedral’s spire came only a month after it was consecrated in November 1881 when a magnitude 6 earthquake rocked the city. There was another much stronger earthquake in September 1888 when the spire was damaged again. In 1901 another earthquake destroyed the twice-repaired spire. It was rebuilt in Australian hardwood sheathed with copper. This spire lasted until the earthquake of 22 February 2011 destroyed it. A new Cathedral has now been created from wood and cardboard, a triumph of the ingenuity and resilience of the people of Christchurch. In a sense this challenge of living with the possibility of earthquakes, with the city built literally on a land that will rumble, a city on the edge, gave the people of Christchurch through the generations, a resilience, a courage and a pragmatic, edgy attitude that was expressed in the way their All Blacks played their rugby and lived their lives.
In his meditation on calamities, the poet William Wordsworth wrote: “We will grieve not, rather find/Strength in what remains behind.” This expressed the mood of the All Blacks. Richie McCaw told reporters the All Blacks wanted to win the Webb Ellis Cup for the people of Christchurch. “The city,” he said, “is pretty beaten up… but if you run away from it and drop your head you’re never going to achieve anything.”
As I watched the television pictures of the procession through the city I thought about the fateful day of the earthquake earlier in the year. Frantic with fear and apprehension I had put through a telephone call to a dear friend living in Christchurch. I needed to know how he, his wife and his children were holding up during their ordeal. He was much calmer than I was. There had been a bit of damage to his house. He was on his way to his cricket ground out of the city to make sure it was ready for play on Sunday. Life had to go on. This calm, sensible approach, resolute in adversity, tenacious and forward-looking with resilience, is the New Zealand way, the Christchurch way and the All Blacks way.
The crowd at Hagley Park understood these deep truths. They made the connections. They waved All Black flags. There were signs proclaiming We Love The All Blacks, Paint It All Black, and All Blacks World Champs 2011.
And Richie McCaw held up the Webb Ellis Cup as if it were a golden Holy Grail.
Written by Spiro Zavos.
Spiro is a founding writer on The Roar, and long-time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
Design by Elise Boyd
Editing by Patrick Effeney
Image Credit: All images are Copyright AAP Australia, unless otherwise noted.