It was a fantastic final. Possibly the best final that was imaginable. One that confirmed every stereotype about both teams, but still provided a fascinating game that went the way of the team that deserved it. Here’s how the drama unfolded as illustrated by the fluctuations of the live betting market:
Pre-match: No team that has lost a game in the pool stage has ever gone on to win a World Cup. That’s the reason France are considered the big outsiders to win the match. And also they’re a bit crap. With the better form, a coach who’s not mental and the support of a nation behind them, New Zealand are considered the hot favourites before the match. They begin the evening with their customary dance of needless intimidation, but the French respond by slowing creeping up to them. It’s a great ploy because few things in life are more frightening than 15 Frenchmen in tight white t-shirts holding hands and walking towards you. The prices for the match are NZ 1/12, France 13/2.
10 mins: New Zealand start much the stronger, but fail to put any points on the board thanks to a Piri Weepu penalty that’s wider than Kerry Katona after her latest divorce. It only looks like a matter of time before France submit meekly prompting a load of references to WWII.
20 mins: The All Blacks get their reward with some line-out chicanery that allows Tony Woodcock to barrel over the tryline untouched like he’s a flying winger as opposed to a lumbering prop. It’s a clever move, mainly because they knew the French would be day-dreaming at that exact moment. Weepu misses the conversation to deny his team the cherry on top, but it’s looking rosy for the All Blacks. At this stage they’re 1/25 to land their second World Cup with France 11/1 and seemingly thinking about all the names they can call the coach in the press.
30 mins: There’s a bit of Morgan Parra hokey-cokey. After coming off second best in a collision with one of Richie McCaw’s curiously positioned knees, he’s in, out, in, out, clearly shaken all about. He tries to be Rocky by soldiering on, but even a coach as inept as Marc Lievremont can see he’s a dizzy liability and he’s replaced by Trinh-Duc. New Zealand continue to dominate, but in fairness to them, Les Bleus remain disciplined and keep them out. New Zealand lose out-half Aaron Cruden which means Stephen Donald – their 4th choice number 10 is now in charge of steering the ship home. To put that into perspective, the equivalent for an England football fan would be seeing Emile Heskey storm out onto the pitch in a crucial match. NZ 1/12, France 8/1.
Half Time: France end the half with no points, but a powerful run from Trinh Duc brings them well into All Black territory and reminds everyone that for all their strength, New Zealand can still be as fragile as a spinster’s self-confidence. The move eventually breaks down, but it’s encouraging for the French, as is Piri Weepu’s rather un-All Black-like decision to kick the ball into touch and run off to the dressing room for a cup of tea and some gazing at his marvellous beard. New Zealand are still the strong favourites at 1/12, but France are in to 13/2.
40 – 50 mins: There’s a whirlwind start to the second half. Yachvilli misses a conversion tricky enough to blame the ball over. New Zealand’s Heskey just about slots offer a penalty to make it 8-0, but France respond with a try. A cocky over-confident kick by Weepu – ironically the type of which you’d expect from France – allows Trinh-Duc through. The All Blacks recover, but the France keep their composure and captain Thierry Dusatoir goes over at the posts. They score the conversion to make it a one point game and all of a sudden the match isn’t a forgone conclusion. New Zealand are now 2/7 with France 13/5.
70 mins: Ten minutes to go and the New Zealand second half choke at the hands of France looks to be very much on. France are enjoying the better of it. The All Blacks creak, but don’t collapse and keep their slender advantage. All it takes is one mistake or a French Jonny Wilkinson.
75 mins: ‘Five minutes to go in a nail-biting World Cup Final – what better time to give a young scrum-half his debut?’ thinks Lievremont. Jean-Marc Doussain is the player who gets the ultimate baptism of fire. Honestly, if Lievremont gets work after this, it better be in a job where he constantly has to ask ‘do you want fries with that?’. That said, his team are in control and are lumbering up the pitch trying to get themselves into position for a drop at goal. New Zealand drift to 1/2, which funnily enough, is pretty much the price they were before the tournament start back in early September. Sonny Bill Williams comes on, but no-one really notices as Les Bleus attempt to manoeuvre into range. If any Kiwi says he or she was confident at this moment in time, they’re a liar. Or possibly an Aussie pretending to be a Kiwi. France are 17/10, the shortest price they’ve been in the match and indeed tournament.
78 mins: France cough the ball up and New Zealand stick it up their jumpers. They reach 1/25 before our traders decide it’s a done deal, a decision which is proved correct about 120 seconds later as France infringe and a short kick to touch brings an end to 24 years of being labelled chokers. After paying out on New Zealand a few days before, Paddy Power comes out from under the sofa and declares that Christmas is just about back on.