ISRAEL DAGG has revealed New Zealand’s sense of “great relief” at ending a 24-year wait to be crowned world champions.
But France almost turned the dream into a nightmare, pushing Dagg and company closer than anyone could realistically have imagined before conceding an 8-7 defeat at Eden Park.
“It’s pretty awesome to win a World Cup at home,” said full-back Dagg, as preparations began for three days of public celebrations with the squad in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
“It is a great relief. We were under a lot pressure, but that comes with being at home in the World Cup.
“I am just proud to be a Kiwi at the moment. To get that win for New Zealand, for the team, for everyone, – it’s awesome.”
All Blacks captain captain Richie McCaw hailed his team’s courage and desire during the closest and lowest-scoring final in World Cup history.
Relief was etched deep into the faces of McCaw, All Blacks supremo Graham Henry and his coaching colleagues Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith after victory was secured by two unlikely heroes – prop Tony Woodcock and substitute Stephen Donald. Woodcock scored the All Blacks’ try, while new Bath signing Donald’s second-half penalty tilted the contest. Two weeks earlier he had been whitebait fishing on the Waikato River when he was summoned as squad replacement for injured Colin Slade.
“It wasn’t very pretty, but it came down to how much desire, how much courage the boys had,” McCaw said.
“A lot of guys have put a lot of effort in for a long time, and they weren’t going to let the opportunity go.”
For France, though, there was no consolation apart from the knowledge they belied miserable pre-final form to threaten an epic upset, especially after their captain Thierry Dusautoir scored an early second-half try.
“We can hold our heads high at the end of this World Cup,” Les Bleus flanker Julien Bonnaire said.