World Cup finals: Only victory matters
They have been great occasions, producing the huge divide between victor and vanquished, the ecstasy of the former, the despair of the latter.
They are matches where only victory matters, nothing else, not even the quality of the games.
They were better occasions than matches.
Of the finals so far those in 1987, 1999 and 2007 produced clear-cut winners. The 1995 Final was totally gripping, as it went into extra-time. The 1991 Final was probably the drabbest. Then it was back to extra time in 2003 and, for the first time, a Northern Hemisphere winner.
Two teams in the 2011 Final – New Zealand and France – had been in two previous finals each. New Zealand won once and lost one, before 2011. France were well beaten in both. New Zealand then got their second win, again on home soil, France remained winless in finals.
The winners in the all seven finals were all unbeaten at the tournament.
Finals down the years!
1987 – New Zealand
New Zealand v France, 29-9
(Eden Park, Auckland, 20 June 1987)
Few doubted that New Zealand would walk it. Throughout the tournament they showed that they had taken rugby to a higher plane than the rest.
They were simply better at attack and defence and every component in those two aspects of the game.
France had no answer and were beaten more comfortably than the score suggests. For their part the dominant All Blacks were possibly more conservative than they needed be.
At half-time New Zealand led 9-0 thanks to a try by Michael Jones after a failed drop-goal attempt by Grant Fox. Fox then dropped a goal.
Then France kicked a penalty and Fox kicked four before Jones, the star of the inaugural World Cup, broke and David Kirk surged over in the corner.
Then from the kick-off David Kirk enjoyed the scrumhalf break of the tournament as he ducked under Pierre Berbizier's tackle, sidestepped Eric Champ and raced 40 metres before sending John Kirwan over.
France then created a French-packaged try as several handled before Pierre Berbizier scored.
Albert Ferrasse, France's chairman of the IRB, presented the cup to perky Kirk who held it aloft, and all New Zealand knew that the world was in the right place.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Jones, Kirk, Kirwan
Pens: Fox 4
New Zealand: John Gallagher, John Kirwan, Warwick Taylor, Joe Stanley, Craig Green, Grant Fox, David Kirk (captain), Buck Shelford, Alan Whetton, Michael Jones, Gary Whetton, Murray Pierce, Steven McDowell, Sean Fitzpatrick, John Drake
France: Serge Blanco, Didier Cambérabéro, Philippe Sella, Denis Charvet, Patrice Lagisquet, Franck Mesnel, Pierre Berbizier, Laurent Rodriguez, Dominique Erbani, Eric Champ, Alain Lorieux, Jean Condom, Pascal Ondarts, Daniel Dubroca (captain), Jean-Pierre Garuet-Lempirou.
Referee: Kerry Fitzgerald (Australia)
1991 – England
Australia v England, 12-6
(Twickenham, London, 2 November 1991)
In the lead-up to the Final, England ran the gauntlet of much criticism and taunting for their "boring" style of play, especially after their drab semi-final against Scotland, which was in sharp contrast to the Wallabies' thrilling, creative victory over New Zealand in Dublin.
England who had been so conservative changed and ran the ball. In a reversal of styles, the Wallabies did not. But, as would happen again in 1999 and 2003, the Australian defence was unyielding. They conceded only three tries in the whole 1991 World Cup and they were not about to bow to Jeremy Guscott and Co, even if they were acting out of character. In 2003 they conceded only one try – to the USA.
That said, only a controversial intrusion by David Campese stopped a probable try. Peter Winterbottom passed to Rory Underwood who would have had a clear run to the line, had a Campese's extended hand not got in the way. The referee decided it was a genuine attempt to catch the ball and did not penalise Campese or award a penalty try, as many argue to this day he should have done.
Instead the Wallabies got the only try – not one of threequarter wizardry but one more in the England mould. Willie Ofahengaue won a line-out on the England line and the Wallaby pack drove prop Tony Daly over for the only try of the match.
Queen Elizabeth II presented the Webb Ellis Cup to Nick Farr-Jones, smiling widely.
Pens: Lynagh 2
Pens: Webb 2
Australia: Marty Roebuck, David Campese, Jason Little, Tim Horan, Bob Egerton, Michael Lynagh, Nick Farr-Jones (captain), Troy Coker, Simon Poidevin, Willie Ofahengaue, Rod McCall, John Eales, Ewen McKenzie, Phil Kearns, Tony Daly.
England: Jon Webb, Rory Underwood, Jerry Guscott, Will Carling (captain), Simon Halliday, Rob Andrew, Richard Hill, Mike Teague, Peter Winterbottom, Mickey Skinner, Wade Dooley, Paul Ackford, Jeff Probyn, Brian Moore, Jason Leonard.
Referee: Derek Bevan (Wales)
1995 – South Africa
South Africa v New Zealand, 15-12
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 24 June 1995)
This was the greatest occasion of the first four World Cups – the party atmosphere, the colourful, cheerful closing ceremony, the Boeing flying just above the stadium to wish the Boks well and then a match which ran into extra-time and the unforgettable sight of the President Nelson Mandela in his No.6 jersey, one of the emotional figures of history, handing the trophy to the captain in his No.6 jersey.
And a divided nation danced happily in the streets to the same tune.
It was a match without a single try, as happened again in 2007 when again South Africa won. It was the first World Cup Final to run into extra time. Kicks counted and it was the greatest kick in the history of the game that decided the outcome – a soaring drop-goal from a scrum kicked by Joel Stransky, the Springbok flyhalf.
Again, as in 1991, and again in 2007, defence won. The All Blacks attacked the Springboks tackled. They even subdued the might of Jonah Lomu, scrambling past each other to get at the All Black giant who had so destroyed England.
In the first half Stransky kicked two penalties and a drop-goal, Andrew Mehrtens two penalties. Mehrtens kicked a second penalty in the second half and then missed a "sitter" of a drop-goal.
There had been slim chances to score tries. Japie Mulder tackled Lomu into touch at the corner, James Small ran free only to be recalled for a forward pass. Reuben Kruger believed he did score.
Normal time elapsed and the teams went into exhausting extra time, 10 minutes each way.
Mehrtens scored first with a long penalty goal. Just before half-time in extra time Stransky levelled the scores.
In the last 10 minutes the Springboks dominated and eventually Stransky dropped the goal and Nelson Mandela gave François Pienaar – and 43 million other South Africans – the World Cup.
For South Africa:
Pens: Stransky 3
DGs: Stransky 2
For New Zealand:
Pens: Mehrtens 3
South Africa: André Joubert, James Small, Japie Mulder, Hennie le Roux, Chester Williams, Joel Stransky, Joost van der Westhuizen, Mark Andrews, François Pienaar (captain), Ruben Kruger, Kobus Wiese, Hannes Strydom, Balie Swart, Chris Rossouw, Os du Randt.
Replacements: Garry Pagel, Rudolf Straeuli, Brendan Venter
New Zealand: Glen Osborne, Jeff Wilson, Walter Little, Frank Bunce, Jonah Lomu, Andrew Mehrtens, Graeme Bachop, Zinzan Brooke, Josh Kronfeld, Mike Brewer, Ian Jones, Robin Brooke, Craig Dowd, Sean Fitzpatrick (captain), Olo Brown.
Replacements: Marc Ellis, Jamie Joseph, Richard Loe, Ant Strachan
Referee: Ed Morrison (England)
1999 – Wales
Australia v France, 35-12
(Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 6 November 1999)
France had worked a miracle befitting Lourdes in rising from the dead at Twickenham to run rings around the All Blacks in the semifinal. Now they came to the new glory of Cardiff's rugby – Millennium Stadium and all its grandeur – and at last a city which embraced the 1999 World Cup and the happy crowds in its streets and pubs.
The occasion was, field condition apart, splendid, the match one-sided, for the French abandoned the elan and panache of Twickenham as if winning that miracle match was their World Cup. In fact they swapped glory for some pretty tawdry practices that led John Eales, Australia's noble captain, to warn that he would take his team off the field.
The adamantine Australian defence, which yielded only a single try in the whole World Cup, was, as in 1991, unbudging and gave the French only kicked scores.
Despite creative spirits such as Stephen Larkham, Tim Horan who was voted the player of the World Cup, Ben Tune and Matthew Burke, the Wallabies could manage only two tries and the French managed to stay in touch for much of the game's first half.
Abdelatif Benazzi thought he had scored a try but was brought back for an earlier knock-on but half-time came and four kicks were ahead of two, 12-6 to Australia.
With a quarter of an hour to go, George Gregan, Horan and Owen Finegan got together to bundle Ben Tune over.
Their only other try came deep in injury time when Gregan broke from a line-out and played inside to Finegan. The burly flank rumbled on and on and undeviatingly on to score for a try that made the score look like a hiding.
Queen Elizabeth II gave the cup to John Eales and Australia became the first team to win the Webb Ellis Cup twice, the only team to win it away from home.
The Wallabies stuffed Bill into their pouch and waltzed off home as heroes.
Tries: Finegan, Tune
Cons: Burke 2
Pens: Burke 7
Pens: Lamaison 4
Australia: Matthew Burke, Ben Tune, Dan Herbert, Tim Horan, Joe Roff, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Toutai Kefu, David Wilson, Matt Cockbain, David Giffin, John Eales (captain), Richard Harry, Michael Foley, Andrew Blades.
Replacements: Mark Connors, Dan Crowley, Owen Finegan, Nathan Grey, Jason Little, Jeremy Paul, Chris Whitaker.
France: Xavier Garbajosa, Philippe Bernat-Salles, Emile Ntamack, Richard Dourthe, Christophe Dominci, Christophe Lamaison, Fabien Galthié, Christophe Juillet, Olivier Magne, Marc Lièvremont, Fabien Pelous, Abdelatif Benazzi, Franck Tournaire, Raphaël Ibañez (captain), Cédric Soulette.
Replacements: Olivier Brouzet, Arnaud Costes, Marc Dal Maso, Pieter de Villiers, Stéphane Glas, Ugo Mola, Stéphane Castaignède.
Referee: André Watson (South Africa)
2003 – Australia
England v Australia, 20-17
(Telstra Stadium, Sydney )
Like England in 2007, Australia were playing in their second consecutive Final. Both Australia and England had won well in the semifinals – against New Zealand and France – and it was clear that the best teams would contest the Final.
It turned out to be a stern contest, a try apiece, extra time and as in 1995 the outcome decided by a drop-goal.
Lote Tuqiri scored first when Stephen Larkham kicked a high diagonal and Tuqiri was too tall for Jason Robinson. That gave the Wallabies a 5-0 lead but then Wilkinson kicked three penalties and Robinson got his own back, scurrying over in the corner. This gave England a 14-5 lead at half-time.
They did not score again in the second half while Flatley goaled three penalties. It was only in extra time that England scored, 34 minutes after Robinson's try.
England were the better side with their powerful pack, and they had two players of enormous stature – Martin Johnson at lock and Jonny Wilkinson at flyhalf.
Twice, as normal time ebbed away, Australia levelled the scores. Full time came at 14-all after Elton Flatley had levelled the scores right at the end of normal time. England went up to 17-14 but Flatley again levelled the scores.
Then with a minute left England went on the attack, Matt Dawson broke, and Jonny Wilkinson kicked the winning drop. Like Stransky before him Wilkinson did it with his right boot though he was mainly a left-footer.
Pens: Wilkinson 4
Pens: Flatley 4
Australia: Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor, Stirling Mortlock, Elton Flatley, Lote Tuqiri, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, David Lyons, Phil Waugh, George Smith, Nathan Sharpe, Justin Harrison, Al Baxter, Brendan Cannon, Bill Young
Replacements: Jeremy Paul, Matt Dunning, David Giffin, Matt Cockbain, Chris Whitaker, Matt Giteau, Joe Roff
England: Josh Lewsey, Jason Robinson, Will Greenwood, Mike Tindall, Ben Cohen, Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Matt Dawson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Neil Back, Richard Hill, Ben Kay, Martin Johnson (captain), Phil Vickery, Steve Thompson, Trevor Woodman
Replacements: Dorian West, Jason Leonard, Martin Corry, Lewis Moody, Kyran Bracken, Mike Catt, Iain Balshaw
Referee: André Watson (South Africa)
South Africa v England, 15-6
(Stade de France, Paris, 20 October 2007)
It was so tense, so close. There was a beauty in that tension as there was heroism in the intensity of two teams who played to become world champion with every fibre of their beings and with the complete focus of their minds and hearts.
There were no tries, though there was one hectic moment when two tackles saved South Africa's bacon.
First Victor Matfield, voted Man of the match, tackled Matthew Tait on the Springbok line and then as the move went left, Danie Rossouw tackled Mark Cueto out at the corner.
The referee, wisely, referred to the TMO, Stuart Dickinson, who saw Cueto's left foot go out. Despite the evidence of their eyes, English supporters would maintain that Cueto had scored as Cueto, unable to see his trailing foot behind him, believed that he had scored. He was out all right.
That was in the second half. The Springboks had their chance in the first half when Frans Steyn and Danie Rossouw were close.
For the rest it was the battle of the boot and the Springboks, who led 9-3 at half-time, did not at any stage look as if they would lose as they played contained rugby.
The battle of the boot and the battle of the line-out, where Matfield and his men reigned supreme, taking six successive line-outs off England.
Eventually, the final whistle gone, South Africa captain John Smit, smiling broadly but as composed as usual, could say of the effort that had gone into the four years' preparation: "It's been worth every second of it."
England were in a way surprise finalists.
South Africa had beaten them 36-0 in a pool match but then England had overwhelmed Australia and subdued France to reach the Final. South Africa had gone the 'easier' route, beating Fiji and Argentina.
For South Africa:
Pens: Montgomery 4, Steyn
Pen: Wilkinson 2
South Africa: Percy Montgomery, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, François Steyn, Bryan Habana, Butch James, Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, CJ van der Linde, John Smit (captain), Os du Randt.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Johann Muller, Wikus van Heerden, Ruan Pienaar, André Pretorius, Wynand Olivier.
England: Jason Robinson, Paul Sackey, Mathew Tait, Mike Catt, Mark Cueto, Jonny Wilkinson, Andy Gomarsall, Nick Easter, Lewis Moody, Martin Corry, Ben Kay, Simon Shaw, Phil Vickery (captain), Mark Regan, Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: George Chuter, Matt Stevens, Lawrence Dallaglio, Joe Worsley, Peter Richards, Toby Flood, Dan Hipkiss.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
2011 – New Zealand
New Zealand v France, 8-7
(Eden Park, Auckland, 23 October 2011)
As in New Zealand in 1987, the Final this time at Eden Park was between New Zealand and France.
As in 2007, the team which lost the Final had already lost to the winners in the pool round.
In fact France had lost twice to New Zealand and Tonga but then Canada beat Tonga and France slid into the quarterfinals and came close to winning the Final.
It was a tough match, belying the pre-match drama.
The French underwent a player revolt against coach Mark Lièvremont before the match.
The players claimed that he had let them down in front of the media and he labelled them 'spoilt brats'. They managed their own preparations for the Final and Lièvremont did not attend the post-match media call.
France won the toss for the right to choose colours but chose white so that the All Blacks at home could play in their traditional black.
At the haka, the French marched towards their eye-popping, tongue -lolling opponents in a vee formation before spreading out into a line.
Then the match became a slogging affair. Tony Woodcock scored a try from a worked move at an attacking line-out when the All Blacks engineered a split through which the durable prop raced. Piri Weepu missed the conversion and two penalty attempts in the half but he saved a try when François Trinh-Duc looked certain to score.
Half-time came with New Zealand leading 5-0.
In that half Aaron Cruden had damaged a knee and was replaced by Stephen Donald in a year when Daniel Carter was injured.
Donald became famous by goaling a penalty early in the second half in a match of several missed penalty attempts by both sides. There remains doubt about the penalty, whether it went over or not, but it will stand in the record books for eternity.
Immediately France hit back.
Trinh-Duc was again close to scoring before Dusautoir scored and Trinh-Duc converted.
That left 33 minutes to play. As what as the case for most of the match, France continued to defend bravely but in the end the All Blacks were the winners.
New Zealand joined Australia and South Africa as twice winners of the Rugby World Cup.
Australia did it away on both occasion, South Africa at home and away and New Zealand at home on both occasions, and there was just one point in it as each side scored a try.
The whole of New Zealand was overjoyed – but the French went grumpily away, complaining that the referee had been far to lenient on Richie McCaw at the breakdowns.
For New Zealand:
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock
Replacements: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Adam Thomson, Andy Ellis, Stephen Donald, Sonny Bill Williams
France: Maxime Médard, Vincent Clerc, Aurélien Rougerie, Maxime Mermoz, Alexis Palisson, Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili, Imanol Harinordoquy, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Julien Bonnaire, Lionel Nallet, Pascal Papé, Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Jean-Baptiste Poux
Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Fabien Barcella, Julien Pierre, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Jean-Marc Doussain, Francois Trinh-Duc, Damien Traille
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
By Paul Dobson