Rugby World Cup 2011
NZ win, on and off the pitch
Richie McCaw (AFP)
Auckland - All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw may have been the man holding the trophy after a gripping Rugby World Cup final against France but this was a tournament that hosts New Zealand won off the field too.
Sunday's 8-7 win over a spirited French team, with much of New Zealand on tenterhooks, was a fitting way for the All Blacks to end their 24-year wait for a second global title since they beat France, also at Eden Park, in 1987.
A fear expressed by more than one pundit before the tournament was that New Zealand fans would be so wrapped up in the fortunes of the All Blacks, they wouldn't have time for anyone else.
But the sight of local supporters in Palmerston North bedecked in Romanian yellow and Georgian red, for a meeting of the Eastern European rivals, nailed that claim. Organisers had promised "a stadium of four million", in reference to the population of New Zealand, and the people delivered.
Staging a Rugby World Cup in a rugby-obsessed country like New Zealand always had a lot to commend it.
England, with its greater financial clout, is set to deliver more money for the International Rugby Board at the 2015 edition, but the event is unlikely to have the same impact in a country where football dominates.
However, there were some thorny issues in New Zealand that not even resourceful organisers, confronted with moving matches away from earthquake-hit Christchurch, were able to solve.
The quarter-final line-up was all too predictable and made many wonder why the need for 48 matches.
Many of the emerging nations performed well in their opening pool fixtures but, significantly, none of them actually won.
And the general trend was for ever heavier defeats as the grossly unfair fixture schedule, which saw many 'minnows' facing four-day turnarounds while big teams usually had a week between games, took its toll.
However, the major teams did indicate they'd be prepared to play mid-week matches in 2015.
Samoa's Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu vented his frustration on Twitter, although comparing the team's plight to the Holocaust and apartheid rather overshadowed his basic point.
Social networking of a different kind contributed to England's poor World Cup and led to an unwanted media feeding frenzy.
Coach Martin Johnson's policy of letting his players go out for a few drinks came under fire after centre Mike Tindall, recently married to Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter, was filmed in a bar with a 'mystery blonde'.
England could have played their way out of trouble but they were downed by France in the quarter-finals, and when Manu Tuilagi then jumped off a ferry and into Auckland Harbour it summed up a campaign that had well and truly sunk.
But France, maddeningly inconsistent under coach Marc Lievremont and superb captain Thierry Dusautoir, recovered from pool defeats by both New Zealand and Tonga to come within a score of what would have been the greatest World Cup upset of them all.
Ireland beat Australia to split the knockout stages into northern and southern hemisphere halves, but they were then overwhelmed by Wales, whose attractive play could not disguise the fact that they lost three times.
Argentina scored two of this World Cup's best tries including one against the All Blacks that gave them an improbable quarter-final lead, as they did enough to suggest they will be a welcome addition to the new Four Nations.
Defending champions South Africa did not have enough guile and precision to see off a gutsy Australia in a quarter-final where officiating at the breakdown again proved a contentious issue.
Whatever your view of New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence's laissez-faire approach, the Internet abuse he and several other officials received was an unwelcome aspect of the tournament.
But despite everything, including a raft of injuries and a threat by their chief executive to boycott the next World Cup on financial grounds, the All Blacks carried off a triumph few would begrudge them, with McCaw summing up the mood after Sunday's final.
"The excitement and enthusiasm around this World Cup has been amazing and I guess we topped it off tonight, so there'll be some pretty happy Kiwis around I'm sure," he said.