WHILE New Zealand inevitably flooded with admiration for Richie McCaw last night, the French skipper Thierry Dusautoir emerged with his head held high and admitted he believed during yesterday’s World Cup final that his side were on the verge of claiming a first triumph for France.
Dusautoir won the Man of the Match award, in direct opposition to McCaw, having scored the try that brought France back into the final eight minutes after half-time and generally provided a towering lead for his men. It started with the pre-match response to the haka, where the Ivory Coast-born back row led a V-shaped march towards the All Blacks, with some of his team-mates carrying on over halfway.
“At one point, we were so close to them that they wanted to kiss the New Zealanders,” he said, “but I told them to take it easy. It was a great moment and a great story. To score the try also felt good and there was still lots of time left. We knew that we had to pressurise them, but we did not do enough to get the points. Everyone was nervous out there. There were 30 guys on the pitch and they were all scared.
“We did our utmost, and fell short by a point. Of course we’re very sad at the outcome, but we had some luck in the previous match [semi-final win over Wales], and that’s the way it goes. That’s part of sport as well.”
According to World Cup protocol, France could face a fine of up to £10,000 for crossing the halfway line, but that would be a needlessly disappointing end to what was a stirring revival by the French side which resulted in a far more competitive finale than anything promised by a stuttering campaign. It was well said beforehand that every French side has in it a big performance, and so many commentators expected something to emerge, but nothing that would create quite as close a contest. It was also a more positive, if bittersweet, way for Marc Lievremont, a beaten finalist himself in 1999, to end his four years in charge of the French team, having suffered a series of revolts within the camp right up until last weekend.
He had attacked them publicly on several occasions for an arrogance and inability to follow instructions, on and off the field. But when it came to playing for their country, and the fear perhaps of being humiliated, every French player stood up to the task.
Lievremont knew his side had had a glorious chance to win it, but declined on this occasion to find fault with them.
“It is tremendously sad, but I am tremendously proud of the players,” he said. “People have always said and thought that the All Blacks were the greatest team of all time, but tonight I think it’s France that was great, and even immense. It’s tough to take, but we needed a little bit more. The players made many promises to themselves, and I think they kept them. We felt we were right in the match at half-time, and the second-half was one-way traffic.
“I have often spoken about emotional contrasts over the four years I’ve been in charge, and at this World Cup, and this is the case once again tonight.”
France had had to come back from the loss of their stand-off Morgan Parra, who suffered concussion in a clash with Richie McCaw’s knee and, after Dusatoir’s try cut the deficit to a point, a failure to hold ball in the Kiwis’ 22, and missed kicks, cost them what seemed for long spells like an eminently achievable victory.
Dusatoir agreed, adding: “We have been criticised, but today we were strong and we showed that rugby is not just skills; it is also mental. But perhaps today we needed more skills.”
A few teams will concur with that assessment of the 2011 World Cup adventure.