All Blacks

New Zealand ended two decades of Rugby World Cup hurt in the tensest of fashions at Eden Park with an 8-7 defeat of France.

Graham Henry's All Blacks have in previous years redefined the way the game of rugby is played, but this was a reversion to something more old school.

While not a conservative performance per se, it spoke volumes that their only try came from a prop, Tony Woodcock going over in the 15 minute from a clever line-out move. Neither was it a day to exploit the unpredictable talents of Sonny Bill Williams, who had to make do with a five-minute cameo at the end.

France decided in this game to shrug off the 'Les Blahs' moniker of indifference that's dogged them this year. The conspiracy theorists were right: they did have a big performance in reserve, offering some of the most exciting passages of the game.

'It spoke volumes that their only try came from a prop'

The French renaissance might have had something to do with Francois Trinh-Duc, replacing fly-half Morgan Parra, who left the field following a Richie McCaw knee to the eye. Trinh-Duc carved up the opposition with one break from his own 22, selling the dummy to Jerome Kaino before being stopped on the opposite side from where he started by a miraculous Piri Weepu tap tackle.

The steel of the French forwards caused real problems for the All Blacks in defence, with their driving maul very much at the fore. Their magnificent captain Thierry Dusautoir showed a Kipling-like aptitude for keeping his head when it was a very real possibility that others would quite literally lose theirs. He also showed great support in crashing over for a try in the wake of an uncharacteristic All Blacks lapse of concentration.

Indeed, France trusted themselves when all others doubted them. No other team has made such a hash of reaching this ultimate stage of the World Cup. They French took a wrong turn somewhere and somehow ended up finalists.

Nevertheless, even the All Blacks' foes (and there are many) will grudgingly admit that their victory this time around is deserved. Losing for them is an aberration, pure and simple. Their perfection of the basics enable them to go off-script when needed and, though such improvisation wasn't on show in this final, they made every nervous second count.

France will meanwhile take comfort in the knowledge that they made the final, where so many better teams failed - teams we thought could have put up a better fight. Perhaps we were all guilty of underestimating their capabilities, because they could have won this encounter.

'Stephen Donald will be one of the happiest men in the country right now'

If there was an elephant in the stadium, it was the on-field absence of Dan Carter. If anybody had a divine right of being in this final, it was him. However, he can take great pride in blazing the trail that led the All Blacks to this World Cup triumph.

By the same token, Stephen Donald will be one of the happiest men in the country right now. Coming into the game as the fourth choice fly-half, he replaced the injured Aaron Cruden and kicked the penalty that edged the game for the All Blacks. Not even wearing a shirt two sizes too small for him could affect his nerves.

The good guys won. It's not often in the unforgiving world of sport you can say that
Meanwhile, Lewis Moody, England's captain at this year's World Cup, announced his international retirement today.

Moody, 33, has decided to close the door on a successful England career that includes a victorious RWC 2003 gold medal and a Grand Slam. Opponents will sleep easier knowing that Moody won't be terrorising the breakdown area, but England must now seek a replacement to fill the number seven shirt.

In an ideal world, England would be able to call upon the services of Wasps' Tom Rees, but his unfortunate run of injuries have put paid to such immediate aspirations.

James Haskell has been employed at seven recently, and it could be that come the Six Nations he will be the incumbent, but many consider him a number eight.

Harlequins' Chris Robshaw and Calum Clark of Northampton are also credible options. Regardless, England fans will hope for consistency in selection for such a vital position.

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