Rugby World Cup 2011
Henry applauds NZ's resolve
Graham Henry (AP)
Auckland - All Blacks coach Graham Henry said his team's grit and discipline were the reasons why they were able to end New Zealand's 24 years of World Cup heartache here on Sunday.
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New Zealand lived up to their world No 1 ranking and pre-eminence in the game to hold off a stern challenge from France to win the World Cup final 8-7 here at Eden Park and spark a national outpouring of joy mixed with relief.
Not since 1987, when New Zealand beat France 29-9 in the inaugural final, also at Eden Park, had the All Blacks been able to call themselves world champions.
But they were pushed to the limit by a France team derided by many pundits as the worst side to have ever made it to the tournament's climax.
The All Blacks carved out an 8-0 lead after 46 minutes, but were tottering when the French hit back with a converted try by man-of-the-match Thierry Dusautoir moments later to set up a gripping last 33 minutes with the whole New Zealand nation on edge.
But the All Blacks dug deep and held out the French, who had a 48 metre shot at a potentially match-wining penalty from Francois Trinh-Duc with 15 minutes left only for the replacement flyhalf's kick to sail well wide of the posts.
"This team has been ranked No 1 in the world for a long time and it was just great that they were able to hang in there and do the business under real pressure," Henry said.
"We had to play a situation that was unexpected and the French played really well and held on to the ball. The ability to hang in there and get the job done was probably something we couldn't have done two or three years ago."
Henry said New Zealand were now a more resilient team than the one, which under his guidance and that of captain Richie McCaw, lost in the quarter-finals to France in Cardiff four years ago - New Zealand's worst World Cup result.
"We are a much stronger side now than we were in 2007. The players are older, more self-reliant and they run this team, Richie and the senior players run this team," he said.
"They've each taken ownership and they've been superb at it. They're also learning and they've learned from this World Cup.
"That's the beauty of continuity, that people continue to be involved rather than wholesale cleanouts and start all over again, how do you learn from that?," said Henry, who survived calls to be sacked following the 2007 World Cup.
"Those situations are difficult but they are things you can learn from."
Reflecting on the final itself, Henry hailed his team's resolve.
"We've all been through it before and it was not a pleasant experience not to do the business, but I'm very proud of the way the guys hung in there, showed their character, showed their resilience and showed the discipline not to give away penalties at 8-7 to win the game," he said.
McCaw too was delighted by New Zealand's composure.
"It says a lot about the men we have in the team. It wasn't the prettiest performance, but we had to have courage and the desire to win," McCaw said.
"Today was about hanging in there. I take my hat off to all the men.
"The big thing was not to panic, though we seemed to do that at the kick-off.
"It is about preparing for situations like that and we prepared for those situations this week," the openside flanker added.
"It is how you react. If you are a leader or captain, you have to keep the belief and captain. The last thing we wanted to do was panic and we managed to hang in."