The French, eh? The wine! The cheese! The shrugging! The ability to make you crap your pants in a rugby world cup context! All week our sporting media had been telling us the All Blacks just had to show up not too hungover on Sunday night, and the cup would be ours. Our sporting media were talking out their sausage rolls.
In fairness, we got a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink ‘never under-estimate the French’ thrown around during the week, but nothing that was going to actually wreck anyone’s post-Aussie-wasting buzz. That was left to the French team themselves, who showed up ready to play. Play they did, treating the All Blacks like a faulty keyboard, and hitting them just as hard. Tony Woodcock’s try calmed the nerves somewhat, but Woolly Valley’s Piri Weepu, who’d featured on more T-shirts than tomato sauce during the week, didn’t have his kicking boots on. Still, things were still roughly going to plan until Aaron Cruden started writhing about on the grass.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” said Grant Nisbett in a slightly horrified manner as Stephen Donald took his tracksuit off. sportreview.net.nz is on record as a fan of the Waiuku wonder (ahem), but even I was bricking it. The Bath-bound Waikato first five, whose style of play can best be described as ‘elbow-y’ was our only hope, our oval ball Obi-Wan. But god love him, there he was, charging on with a look of steely determination, just as most New Zealanders started thinking about hiding behind the couch.
Donald made a decent little break and run. He got his kick. Thank fuck. And he was part of a second half defense-orientated All Black performance that would have Chris ‘ocker shocker’ Rattue calling for Robbie Deans even more than he does now, but was precisely what was called for on the night. Looking at our performances from the quarters on, it seems we were doing our best England 2003 impression, relying on a battle-scarred forward pack to belt the opposition and play it tight, with heaps of kicking. It’s all pretty un-New Zealand, but I couldn’t care less. Finally we discovered we, too, can play finals-style rugby and in doing so, we put ourselves in position to win it.
Having said that, I doubt I’ve enjoyed a game of rugby less. I was thinking of my mate Mike, who was at Twickenham in 1999 and Cardiff in 2007 to see France dump us out – he was there on Sunday and I hope he screamed like I did when we got possession back four minutes from time. The French had battered us in prime drop goal or penalty territory for most of the second half, sending me into a mood darker than Grizz Wylie discovering a smashed bottle of scotch in the boot, but suddenly it was on – maybe that point would be enough. Stephen Donald, who missed finding touch in Hong Kong that time, played it comically safe booting it out. We won the line out, rumbled it up, then got the penalty. I saw stars.
Jeff Wilson spewing in Johannesburg, dwarf-sized Frenchmen dancing around the Twickenham turf, John Mitchell being surly at press conferences and Wayne fucking Barnes don’t matter any more. David Kirk has company.
I promise I will stop going on about it, but I am absolutely made up for Stephen Donald. He’s having a great week. To go out and kick the winning penalty (as it turned out) for his country after being most people’s idea of world cup poison took proper character, guts and steel. From the moment he rejoined the squad, he exuded professionalism and confidence and he must be quietly enjoying showing his critics what he’s really made of on the biggest stage of all. It says a lot about our remarkable depth that we can call up a bloke who was too busy whitebating to answer his phone to the national coach and throw him on the field to win us the world cup. Not many countries could do that, and not many men could do what Stephen Donald did. Fair play to you, Beav.
This week has been all parades and people treating the Webb Ellis cup with the respect it deserves. The thing I’m enjoying the most is the sense of restarting, of nothing mattering any more. If we’d lost, we’d be in the middle of recriminations, Steve Hansen versus Robbie Deans versus Warren Gatland and rugby-related moaning and wailing reaching unprecedented-ly stroppy levels. Fuck all that. We won, and there’s plenty of time to contemplate what happens next. Later. Let’s enjoy the fact that our big party ended the right way, with a party. I still can’t believe it.