Roll on Rugby World Cup 2015 !!
I've had such a good time watching the Rugby World Cup finals - except the one the Wallabies lost to the All Blacks, of course...
Last night's decider really was one of the most exciting rugby finals I've watched in a while, despite the low scoring and the ball-handling errors (although nothing will beat Wilkinson vs Australia in RWC 2003 for a long time....)
It serves as a reminder why I get so excited in the lead-up to this compettion every four years. It is just sensational sports viewing: the greatest game in the world.
It has to be said: the All Blacks are deservedly Rugby World Cup Champions for 2011.
Just like TV's Survivor - they've outplayed all comers, outlasted huge scares like the one Les Bleus gave them last night, outwitted opponents (the Australians, devastatingly, in particular) by playing them at their own game and winning the battle of tactics, over and over - and out-muscled, out-bustled, and out-rugbyed every opponent they faced.
They've even out-choked their own traditional choke - and put that choke around the throats of their opponents through a consistently tough and altogether ultimately undefeated defence.
Once and for all, the All Blacks showed that making and holding tackles wins the big games.
As Wallaby scrum-half Will Genia said back in August after the Wallabies were smashed by the ABs at Eden Park:
"No matter how long you hold that pill for they’ve got a good enough defensive system to hold you out and they showed that. It was very, very hard."
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans agreed, saying: “They scrambled defensively very well and those sorts of qualities will be important come World Cup time.”
Quite prophetic, in fact, Robbie.
The last half of the 2011 RWC final was exactly like that. As the pressure built on the All Blacks to hold onto their slimmest of leads at 8-7, it was clearly becoming waaay too much for some NZ tweeters who were including references to holding their breath, various types of coronary care and nervous breakdown in their increasingly-feverish tweets (these, at least, provided some light relief on the side).
It was tense and it was exciting. Despite the fact that the French had most of the possession, the All Blacks held them out. Denied them.
Towards the end, the All Black defenders looked completely dead on their feet, battered and sorely tested after dozens of phases put together by heroic waves of Bleus led in the loose by their incredible captain Thierry Dusautoir and a dominant platform in the lineout via Imanol Harinordoquy (a lineout reliability factor the Wallabies desperately needed - nay must have had, and sadly couldn't consistently deliver - if they were ever to challenge for the title).
But the time evaporated and the New Zealanders kept finding something, managing to keep "scrambling" in defence, covering huge overlaps out wide being created by a magnificent final charge of wide-running, hugely-brave French backs. Led by the efforts of scrum half Dimitri Yachvili, tough tackle-breaking centre Aurélien Rougerie and fullback Maxime Mèdard they gave it everything they had from the first minute of the second half in a desperate attempt to break the All Black defensive line.
They just couldn't beat the choker-hold of the strongest-willed All Blacks defence we've seen for quite some time.
Former England and British Lions hooker and now UK Telegraph rugby writer Brian Moore said this morning that "The French refused to play their role as biggest underdogs ever" but that "the All Blacks' defensive wall ended brave France's hope of a breakthrough."
Moore went on to write that:
"In the end, it was pressure that told for the French; not that imposed by attacking pressure, rather an enormous rearguard defensive display from the All Blacks in the middle period of the second half."
It's quite a good commentary actually - and from an ex-front rower, which makes it all the more sensible and realistic. Worth a read.
Let's be very clear here. I don't like the All Blacks.
I do not have a strange attraction to their regularly-infringing (but rarely-penalised) forward pack, led by the all-time unpenalised infringer in Richie McCaw.
And I will not succumb to the sickening media fawning that is occurring across all channels right now.
In my heart I was going for the French (as much as I don't like them, either).
But after yesterday's grinding win against a tough, brave, committed Les Bleus who fell desperately short of their own glory, it is utterly impossible to not respect the best rugby team in the world right now: the 2011 All Blacks.
Congratulations to the All Blacks.