Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why the World Cup Final is not a Done Deal

My head and heart say we should win. The French have shown little capacity for quality rugby aside from 7 minutes against the All Blacks, and holding out England and Wales. So, all the form books say we win.

But rugby history tells us that this proves nothing with the French. In 1953 (3–0), in 1973 (15–3), in 1977 (18–13), in 1979 on Bastille Day at Eden Park (24–19—totally unexpected), in 1986 (16–3), 1994 twice (22–8 and at Eden Park, 23–20), in 1995 (22–15), in 1999 at the RWC (43–31), in 2000 (42–33), in 2007 at the RWC (20–18), and two years ago at Carisbrook (27–22), where we rarely lose to anyone, they beat us. In all of these, except perhaps 1973 on that ill-fated British tour, in 1986 after the Cavaliers-Baby Blacks etc fiasco, and 2000 after 1999, we were overwhelming favourites.

Of particular interest are their victories over us are victories at times when we appeared dominant. For example, in 1979 we were coming off a Grand Slam tour and had won the first test well. In 2000, they could beat us despite us wanting to avenge 1999. Then there are the two RWC losses to them. In 1999 we had beaten them in the same year 54–7 and two years previously in France, 37–12. In 2007 we had beaten them four times in succession over the previous two years, 47–3, 23–11 in France in 2006, and 42–11 and 61–10 in NZ. With those results, who would ever have imagined we would lose in 2007 in particular? Finally, there is 2009, only two years ago, in NZ, again at a time when we would want to right the ledger after 2007. This recent win demonstrates the danger more than any other. They seem to be most dangerous when we are favourites and they are not expected to win. This is exactly one of those occasions, with us beating them by twenty points just a few weeks ago (37–17). This suggests that they will be very very dangerous this weekend.

So, it is clear it is not a done deal. All the form books say an All Blacks win, but the French aren't just any team and with almost everyone writing them off, they are more dangerous than ever. I think anything could happen tomorrow night. I hope it is a win to the AB's—not for me, but for Graham Henry, the coaching staff, Richie McCaw and the senior players, and for the people of Christchurch in particular. Canterbury is the heart-beat of NZ rugby and it would be a fitting climax to a great era and give them something to smile about after all the suffering of the last year or so. If the French win, it won't be a surprise, nor will it mean that we choked. It will be just another one of those days.

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