RUGBY

Talking Points

Monday 24 October 2011, 3:07PM
By Rugby World Cup 2011
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AUCKLAND CITY

<p>With just 15 points on the scoreboard at the final whistle on Sunday night, New Zealand and France produced the lowest-scoring and closest Rugby World Cup Final on record.</p> <p>Statistics from the last five finals suggested place kicking would be key to victory - with 84 per cent of points in those matches coming from the boot - especially as the tournament&#39;s three most-successful kickers, France&#39;s Dimitri Yachvili (90 per cent) and Morgan Parra (80), and New Zealand&#39;s Piri Weepu (79) all started the match.</p> <p>Reversing that trend though, only five of the Final&#39;s 15 points came from the boot and none of those from that trio of kickers. Instead of the set kicks dominating the contest, it was kicking from hand for field position that became the game&#39;s most telling tactic.</p> <p>In a low-scoring tactical arm-wrestle with try-scoring chances few, the importance of getting kicks from hand right took on far greater importance and dictated where the game was played, won and lost. From a match total of 61, there were two kicks in particular that had an unmistakable bearing on the final result.</p> <p>The first came in the 14th minute. After missing four place kicks in the All Blacks&#39; semi-final victory against Australia, Weepu&#39;s poor form from the tee continued when he pulled his first penalty chance left of the posts inside the first five minutes, but it was the scrum half&#39;s raking kick from his own 10-metre line to touch inside France&#39;s 22 after 14 minutes that really opened the match up.</p> <p><strong>Classic bluff</strong></p> <p>New Zealand had already kicked the ball out of their own half five times in the first 15 minutes, but Weepu&#39;s touch finder was the first from a penalty, so, crucially, the All Blacks got to throw into the lineout.</p> <p>France had enjoyed considerable success disrupting Wales&#39;s lineout in the second half of their semi-final victory and tried to repeat the tactic with their two best lineout spoilers against Keven Mealamu&#39;s throw. But it was a classic bluff from the All Blacks, designed on the training ground and executed perfectly on the field to produce the first score of the match.</p> <p>Kieran Read jumped in the first pod at the front and Imanol Harinordoquy jumped with him,&nbsp;Jerome Kaino jumped in the second pod at the back and Julien Bonnaire jumped with him. But with so many France players committed to supporting the spoilers, when Kaino skillfully tapped the ball back down in front of him it left Tony Woodcock to gather and run through the gap between the pods untouched and dot down. &quot;It just opened up,&quot; said a slightly surprised Woodcock.</p> <p>The All Blacks were off the mark with a simple but highly effective lineout move and Graham Henry could not hold his delight in the coach&#39;s box, giving colleague Steve Hansen a rich pat on the back.</p> <p>&quot;We put that (move) up our sleeve and saved it for the final,&quot; said Woodcock. &quot;I&#39;m pretty happy it came off, it was definitely a team effort.&quot;</p> <p>The second crucial kick arrived in the 63rd minute. France captain Thierry Dusautoir had scored a try and Fran&ccedil;ois Trinh-Duc had converted it, so the match was in the balance with New Zealand leading 8-7 with less than 20 minutes on the clock.</p> <p><strong>France miss their chance</strong></p> <p>Trinh-Duc came on as a permanent replacement for fly half Morgan Parra in the 23rd minute and even though he missed a 35-metre drop goal attempt in the first half, he kicked competently out of hand in defence and attack, including a monster clearance from the edge of France&#39;s 22 all the way to New Zealand&#39;s 22 in the 57th minute.</p> <p>The All Blacks defused that situation with a quick lineout and an Israel Dagg punt back downfield, but another chance to put his menacing forwards into New Zealand&#39;s half presented itself to Trinh-Duc shortly after.</p> <p>After Pascal Pap&eacute; had claimed a lineout between France&#39;s 22 and 10-metre lines, Ali Williams was penalised for hands in the resultant ruck and Les Bleus received a penalty that should have provided the pivotal opportunity they needed to gain possession in All Blacks territory.</p> <p>With crucial momentum gained however, Trinh-Duc got greedy, looked for a few extra metres and failed to find the touch that would have given France an attacking lineout well inside enemy territory. New Zealand full back Dagg happily fielded the kick and from just outside his own 22 thumped the ball back to France&#39;s 10-metre line - the chance was lost.<br /> New Zealand were off the hook and, crucially, did not have to regroup looking for scores. Instead the pressure was immediately back on France, pressure that affected decisions and most likely led to Trinh-Duc attempting a long-range penalty shot at goal from just inside New Zealand&#39;s half minutes later.</p> <p>Even with Yachvili on the field - who had scored two confident 45-metre penalties in Les Blues&#39; quarter-final victory over England - Trinh-Duc assumed the responsibility, despite having successfully kicked just one penalty (from 20 metres) in his 34 previous Tests. His kick dropped just short and right and another chance to apply crucial pressure to the hosts had been lost.</p> <p><strong>Number 8 contest</strong></p> <p>&quot;I expected them to kick it over. I was already thinking about what we had to do to get some more points,&quot; said All Blacks centre Conrad Smith. &quot;(Then) we knew we just had to stick to what we know, when you start thinking you need miracles, that&#39;s when you get in trouble.&quot;</p> <p>New Zealand&#39;s Read and France&#39;s Harinordoquy both spent time on their teams&#39; respective benches in the tournament, but in the Final, the pair were up against each other from the start and central to the efforts of their sides.</p> <p>They jumped against each other in the lineout move that created the All Blacks&#39; try and while neither got their hand on the ball on that occasion, the two were far and away the most dominant lineout forces, claiming a remarkable 42 per cent of the match&#39;s total lineouts between them.</p> <p>Indeed, Henry considered Read so important to the All Blacks&#39; RWC 2011 campaign that he selected him for the squad despite him carrying an ankle injury and knowing he would only be available for the later matches.</p> <p>He proved his coach&#39;s point by taking the initiative for New Zealand in the first half. Taking a central position in midfield, usually alongside Ma&#39;a Nonu when the All Blacks were in possession in French territory, Read was the &#39;go-to&#39; man, continually carrying the ball into opposition tackles.</p> <p>His power made metres and more often than not he committed multiple defenders and presented quick ball for his support to gather attacking momentum in the wider areas. Read also fronted up as a defender when required in the second half, finishing the match with more tackles (15) than any other All Black.</p> <p><strong>Breakdown magnet</strong></p> <p>In the white corner, Harinordoquy was summoned from the bench in the second half of both France&#39;s pool defeats against New Zealand and Tonga, and both matches were significantly closer on the scoreboard after the break. He then went into the starting XV for France&#39;s quarter-final against England and claimed the man-of-the-match award.</p> <p>Willingly following his redoubtable captain Dusautoir, Harinordoquy was a powerful breakdown magnet throughout for France, securing and pressuring ball in equal measure, as well as blending tackles with control at the base of the scrum, including an assertive 10-metre carry just after the All Blacks had taken the lead that made a statement about France&#39;s intentions.</p> <p>It was when France went searching for the winning points in the final quarter, however, that Harinordoquy was most clearly on show. As the caller of the lineouts, he nervelessly kept calling to himself when New Zealand pressed France well in their own half, each time he secured ball that helped push his team back downfield.</p> <p>In 2010, Harinordoquy played heroically in Biarritz&#39;s 18-7 Heineken Cup semi-final victory against Munster, despite a serious broken nose. He played with an unsightly mask to protect his injuries that day, but drove his team forward nonetheless and it was those qualities that kept pushing France into the All Blacks&#39; defence as they searched for points.</p> <p>He hit rucks harder, he pulled tired teammates off the floor by their shirts and even tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to get his boot through rucks to disrupt New Zealand ball right to the end. Dusautoir was undoubtedly his team&#39;s outstanding back row forward, but in combination with his number 8, they drove France closer than ever before.</p> <p>&quot;Maybe we needed more skill tonight,&quot; lamented the captain, before finding a modicum of consolation. &quot;I am really proud of my boys and what they did, I thought we showed we know how to play rugby.&quot;</p>