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From Suzie to 'The Kick': The history of the All Blacks in World Cup finals

By Adam Julian
Jerome Kaino of the All Blacks (L) shares a joke with teammate Stephen Donald on the winners podium after the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup Final match between France and New Zealand at Eden Park on October 23, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The All Blacks are in the Rugby World Cup final again. They will tussle with South Africa who have also won three finals and lost eight games in tournament history.

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The Springboks have never lost a Rugby World Cup final but the All Blacks lead South Africa 3-2 in tournament meetings.

Here is the history of the All Blacks in the showpiece match.

20 June 1987: All Blacks: 29 v France: 9
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland.

All Blacks Scoring: Michael Jones, John Kirwan, David Kirk tries; Grant Fox 4 pen, con, dg.
France Scoring: Pierre Berbizier try, Didier Camberabero con, pen.

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Referee: Kerry Fitzgerald (Australia), All Blacks Record: 6-1.

The All Blacks reputation was hurting in 1986. A rebel tour of South Africa by the Cavaliers was universally unpopular so much, so some All Blacks in the 1987 Rugby World Cup squad refused to leave their accommodation wearing All Blacks kit.

Coach Sit Brian Lochore hatched a plan to take the squad out of Wellington and bus them to the Tuhirangi rugby club, about 30km from Martinborough in the Wairarapa.

The idea was to let the players know that people in the heartland of New Zealand still cared about the All Blacks.

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A bus ride to Pirinoa resulted in the vehicle stopping at the footy club, where the squad was split up so they could be billeted out to stay with the locals for a night.

The plan coupled with a more culturally appropriate performance of the haka and brilliant expansive rugby by a young All Blacks side, many of whom on the pathway to legendary status, captured the imagination of the country.

Tickets at a sold-out Eden Park were only $44 for a top-range seat.

The opening was tense with Grant Fox dropping a goal after 14 minutes to open the scoring. Like he did against Italy in the round-robin tearaway openside Sir Michael Jones scored the first try of the final.

“It was a move to go right from the scrum. JK (John Kirwan) did most of the work, beating several players down the sideline. He passed inside to Foxy (Grant Fox), and I knew he wouldn’t score. So many times, he kicked us out of trouble, but tries weren’t his thing so I was followed up in support and was grateful for his pass,” Jones reflected.

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In the entire 1987 first-class season, Jones played 25 games (24 wins) and scored 19 tries.

Didier Camberabero (known for wearing a hairpiece) kicked a penalty after halftime to close the gap to 9-3 but the All Blacks would soon click into another gear. Captain and halfback David Kirk writing for Stuff in 2009 eloquently recalled his try.

“Twenty years of playing in the Kiwi crucible of rugby, frosty fields in bare feet, cold sawdust under old wooden stands in provincial towns, mum, and dad in the stand, always there.

“Fitz (Sean Fitzpatrick) throws long, Joe (Stanley) smashes it up in midfield, back the blindside, Foxy (Grant Fox) to the Iceman (Michael Jones), his explosive power takes him through, inside to me, angle for the corner, I’m going to make it. That was the moment I knew we had won. Absolutely knew.”

Prop and respected TV commentator John Drake passed away in 2008.

24 June 1995: All Blacks: 12 v Springboks: 15
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg.

All Blacks Scoring: Andrew Mehrtens 3 pen, dg.
Springboks Scoring: Joel Stransky 4 pen, dg.

Referee: Ed Morrison (England), All Blacks Record: 6-3.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup final is the most famous rugby match in history. It was the subject of a 2009 Hollywood film Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

Shortly after the demise of apartheid, the Springboks achieved a stirring upset victory with a Joel Stransky drop goal in the 12th minute of extra time. President Nelson Mandela dramatically met the teams before kick-off and later Mandela presented Francois Pienaar with the William Webb Ellis Trophy dressed in the captain’s number six jersey.

For All Blacks fans 1995 is a bitter case of the one that got away. The All Blacks had outscored opponents 315 to 104 prior to the final and scored more points against Japan (145) than the Springboks had scored (129) across the whole tournament.

South Africa was so concerned by the threat of Jonah Lomu they employed martial arts instructors in a plan to halt the rampaging winger. It worked for Japie Mulder. Despite conceding 40kg to Lomu the centre dramatically tackled Lomu when it looked likely he could score a try. Three times halfback Joost van der Westhuizen made vital stops too.

Much of the resentment for New Zealanders around 1995 concerns the allegation that the All Blacks were food-poisoned prior to the match. Winger Jeff Wilson was seen vomiting on the sideline.

Coach Laurie Mains later blamed a waitress named Suzie whose never been photographed or interviewed. All Blacks manager Sir Colin Meads blamed “dodgy milk,” and flanker Josh Kronfeld “suspect” chicken. Mains even told the New Zealand Herald in 2016.

“My wife knew a private investigator in South Africa and, after we came home, we contacted him and asked him to see what he could find out, if anything, because I knew all the doors would be shut.

“He had moderate success and did establish a black lady had been employed by the hotel two days before we arrived and that day after we got sick, she disappeared completely.”

A new book Around the World in 80 Minutes, written by acclaimed English rugby journalist Robert Kitson claims the boss of the South African Rugby Union believed the choice of diet by many of the All Blacks was to blame for the illness.

“My view on it would be they ate seafood in the week before a World Cup final, which was probably not the brightest thing to have done,” Edward Griffiths said.

Sixteen of the 21-strong match-day squad for the final were still suffering from food poisoning on the day of the Rugby World Cup final.

All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick later said.

“I used to say there weren’t many days that go by when I didn’t think about that World Cup final.

“But I suppose when you look back on things you achieved or not, you think – what could I have done differently? And I think a lot about that.

“The one that got away? That is one that got away from us. We had an opportunity a couple of times to win that game before extra time and we didn’t take them.

“I don’t think we played our final the week before, I think we were as ready as we could be. Tactically, we probably got it wrong, and Kitch Christie [Springbok head coach] did a great job of shutting us down.”

Andrew Mehrtens sitter of a drop goal missed in extra time still irks.

Kitch Christie was 14-0 as a Springboks coach, the same record as Fred Allen. Tragically Christie, van der Westhuizen, Chester Williams, James Small, Ruben Kruger and Lomu have all since passed.

23 October 2011: All Blacks: 8 v France: 7
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland.

All Blacks Scoring: Tony Woodcock try, Stephen Donald pen.

France Scoring: Thierry Dusautoir try, François Trinh-Duc con.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa), All Blacks Record: 17-1-1.

With the French openly revolting against their coach Marc Lièvremont and losing twice in round robin to Tonga (14-19) and the All Blacks (17-37) in Riche McCaw’s 100th Test the hosts would have perhaps expected a less torrid time.

However, the All Blacks were down two first-fives and Captain McCaw suspected his foot was broken but never had the X-ray which would have confirmed it. Instead, he got through the World Cup on painkillers, adrenaline, and willpower often wearing a moon boot after practice. Halfback Piri Weepu pulled a groin practicing his goal kicking in the warm-up to the game.

France won the toss for the choice of colours ahead but agreed to play in their white change kit to allow New Zealand to play in their traditional all-black kit.

After the national anthems, the New Zealand players performed the Kapa o Pango haka. The French advanced towards them in a V-shaped formation before fanning out into a straight line. The French had decided to meet the haka in this fashion on Sunday morning, and French captain Thierry Dusautoir stated that “it was a great moment.”

They were later fined £2,500 by the IRB for crossing the halfway line, a decision that was labeled “pedantic” and the “final insult”.

The All Blacks started with authority. After 15 minutes prop Tony Woodcock scored a try from a cunning set move. All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith in his autobiography Smithy explained its genesis.

“Back in 2008, we’d used a lineout move called ‘Teabag’ during a 22-16 win over Australia at Eden Park. In ‘08, Andrew Hore threw the ball in, and Ali Williams caught it. Half of our lineout shuffled forward, and one half moved back. Into the gap raced prop Tony Woodcock, for the ball and a try.”

“The move worked so perfectly we locked it away.”

In 2011 there was a lineout five meters out from the line, Weepu recalled to RugbyPass earlier this year.

“We had that move up our sleeve for a while and had done our homework on the opposition. It was based on lineout formation and movement. When we assembled for that lineout, we had a chat and were like ‘f*** it,” Weepu laughed.

Keven Mealamu throws, Jerome Kaino catches, and the sea of players parts. Woodcock crashes over the line for the try, the first by a prop in a World Cup final since Tony Daly scored for the Wallabies in their 12-6 win over England in 1991.

A photograph taken by Andrew Cowie from Colorsport Images and reproduced on the front page of the New Zealand Herald captures the brilliance of the try. It shows Woodcock diving over for the line with four All Blacks behind him without a Frenchman in sight.

Woodcock admitted the try was one of the proudest moments of his career – but he “was only on the end of the chain really”.

Soon things would turn grim for the All Blacks. First five Aaron Cruden injured his groin and had to depart. He was replaced by Stephen Donald who could hardly fit his jersey. Weepu dragged two goal kicks and it was only 5-0 at halftime.

Donald kicked a famous penalty from 35 meters in the 46th minute but in the 53rd minute, French captain Thierry Dusautoir scored a try, converted by François Trinh-Duc which made it 8-7.

The last 20 minutes camped on defence were excruciating for the All Blacks. Using computer data Wayne Smith provided an insight into why the All Blacks defence was so watertight.

“We decided by 2011 that getting off the ground was one of our most important KPIs. Guys who’d made a tackle, been a ball carrier, needed to be quickly off the ground and back into the game,” Smith said.

“When we won the World Cup in 2011, we were typically 40% quick off the ground that is back to our feet in under three seconds. In the final, you can hear Andy Ellis yelling the whole time ‘Get back to your feet, get back to your feet.’

“We were 64% off the ground which was the best we’d ever seen and miles better than anyone else. Now you’d use 80% as a yardstick. That’s how data can change the game.”

McCaw made 18 tackles for the All Blacks, Donald 11 with no misses. Dusautoir was named Man of the Match and World Rugby Player of the Year for his inspirational effort. All Blacks head coach Sir Graham Henry, who has never watched the game back, said.

“Jesus, it was bloody stressful…It did flash through my mind. I thought maybe the south of France, it’s not a bad part of the world…I’ve gone through 140 test matches… but there’s no greater tension, I would’ve thought, in those 140 tests than the second half of that game.”

31 October 2015: All Blacks: 34 v Australia 17
Venue: Twickenham, London.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales), All Blacks Record: 21-4.

All Blacks Scoring: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ma’a Nonu, Beauden Barrett tries; Carter 2 con, 4 pen, dg.
Australia Scoring: David Pocock, Tevita Kuridrani tries; Bernard Foley 2 con, pen.

The All Blacks became the first team to successfully defend the Rugby World Cup with a resounding victory over Australia. A cunning and brutish plan of attacking the short side to neutralise the double threat of Wallabies loose forwards David Pocock and Michael Hooper worked a treat.

Three penalties to Daniel Carter and a try to winger Nehe Milner-Skudder (13 Tests, 12 tries), with Richie McCaw providing the last pass, capped a perfect first half.

The All Blacks replaced centre Conrad Smith with Sonny Bill Williams at halftime. In the 42nd minute, and leading 16-3, the most dramatic moment of the match occurred.

Williams set up an epic try for Ma’a Nonu with a trademark offload. Williams recalled in his autobiography You Can’t Stop The Sun From Shining.

“I’m supposed to run out with the team, but I go out early and then the boys come out. ‘Bro, you pretty much missed the team talk! To me, the time for talking was long over. It was time for action. My second touch was an inside offload to Ma for a try. It put us in a commanding lead…I was rooming with Ma’a for the final week of that tour, and we got hold of the trophy and slept with it in our room. We changed into our lavalavas and just floated on a cloud.

“KBA Keeping the ball alive was a call in the All Blacks. The thing about the offload is it’s such a vital part of the game, especially when done correctly. With that glass-half-full on-field mentality coming naturally, I’ve always been one to test the boundaries and go for the offload when no one expects it.

“Big plays in big matches change the course of the game.”

A yellow card to fullback Ben Smith threatened to derail the All Blacks, 21-3 suddenly became 21-17. However, a Carter masterclass, he kicked a 40-meter drop goal and a conversion with his right (wrong) foot, proved telling.

Beauden Barrett’s final try dribbling the ball down the London sideline after a kick by Ben Smith has become folklore. The Justin Marshal call of ‘Go Beaudy’ can be heard at pubs, schools and in casual conversation.

Writing for the New Zealand Hearld notoriously critical columnist Chris Rattue said.

“Strictly speaking, my man of the match was Jerome Kaino. His physical impact – starting with the big tackle on (Israel) Folau – was colossal. This is where the All Blacks had it all over the Wallabies. A comparison with the admirable (Scott) Fardy tells the story – the Aussie No. 6 can play some, but Kaino is fearsome. Safe lineouts as well.”

McCaw, Smith, Nonu, Kaino, Williams, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock played in both the 2011 and 2015 finals. McCaw retired with a World Cup record 22 wins.

Carter had been written off prior to the tournament with Rattue infamously writing.

“What happens with a bloke like Carter when the legs can’t keep up with the legend? The simplest of passes or kicks become strokes of genius in the minds of those who can’t let him go. And, to confess, those same acts might be undervalued by those of hand (hand up here) who don’t think he has the goods anymore. Our stand on the man becomes the reference point and it takes an awful lot of convincing to change tack.”

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