Monday, 20 December 2010

I’m often accused of living in the past, so today I want to look to the future. Could this possibly be my column on Friday, October 28, 2011?

Sunday’s Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park was never going to be easy for Steve Hansen’s All Blacks. Following his nasty car park altercation with arch-nemesis Robbie Deans, the scene was set for the most dramatic final since South Africa 1995.

Favoritism sat easily with the red-hot Wallabies who’d enjoyed an unbeaten Tri-Nations campaign, amassed 367 unanswered points in the RWC round robin games, walloped Ireland 67-18 in the quarter-final and were even more impressive mauling France 51-3 in the semis, with James O’Connor repeating his heroics from Paris last year.

By contrast the All Blacks had been hamstrung in their build up to the tournament final. Following a rollicking 2010, where 13 of 14 test matches were won impressively, 2011 provided an agonizing run in to the biggest prize in world rugby.

Graham Henry’s shock resignation following a disastrous, injury-ravaged Tri-Nation’s campaign did little for a team already rocked by Dan Carter’s season-ending knee injury. To make matters worse, talisman Richie McCaw had only played a limited role, due to a recurring concussion problem from the sickening Bakkies Botha late tackle in Wellington.

With no Carter, McCaw effectively all but invalided out of the tournament and Sonny Bill Williams defecting to the Dallas Cowboys, it was left to some of the lesser lights to lead the way at Eden Park. Southland’s surprise package Jamie Mackintosh was admirable replacing the irreplaceable Tony Woodcock, while fellow Highlander Colin Slade continued his commendable 2011, proving life does exist post-Carter.

Without doubt though, the All Blacks owed their epic 13-12 World Cup victory to the most maligned man of 2010, Waikato’s Stephen Donald. Initially unwanted by Hansen, Donald was only thrown a lifeline with the injuries to Carter and Auckland’s Gareth Anscombe.

With fulltime showing following Matt Todd’s injury-time try, Donald, who’d only been on the park for three minutes as a result of Slade’s chronic cramping, was asked to kick the winning sideline conversion.

A nation held its anguished, collective breath, remembering the horrors of 2010. Atonement awaited. Donald duly obliged. Rugby immortality and a Jockey contract were now surely his.


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