It’s been nearly a decade since the All Blacks quashed their long-standing World Cup drought in front of their own fans at Eden Park in Auckland.
In a match that will forever be etched in New Zealand rugby folklore, the likes of skipper Richie McCaw and cult hero Stephen Donald wrote themselves into the history books after playing vital roles in a 8-7 victory over France nine years ago.
Since then, the Kiwis went on to achieve unprecedented success under the tutelage of Steve Hansen, but it was Sir Graham Henry’s class of 2011 that dispelled the long-standing curse to win their first world title in 24 years.
Some of the match day squad that dispatched Les Bleus in one of the most tense fixtures in modern rugby history are still kicking the ball around somewhere in the world, but most have hung up their boots for good.
With that in mind, here is a look back at the players who ended nearly a quarter of a century of heartbreak for New Zealand and assess where they are now.
1. Tony Woodcock
The only try-scorer for the All Blacks in the final, Tony Woodcock went on to amass 118 tests and won a second World Cup crown in England four years later. Now works as a farmer in Kaukapakapa.
2. Keven Mealamu
One of the longest-serving members of this side, Keven Mealamu’s decorated 132-test career also came to a close following the England 2015 triumph. The 41-year-old now owns a gym in South Auckland, is on the boards of Drug Free Sport NZ and Auckland Rugby, and was last year elected to the Papakura Local Board.
3. Owen Franks
Despite being one of the most solid and reliable All Blacks stars of the past decade, Owen Franks’ esteemed 108-cap international career came to an anticlimactic end last year when he missed out on selection for the World Cup in Japan. The two-time World Cup-winner has since joined English Premiership side Northampton Saints.
4. Brad Thorn
A genuine legend of the professional era, the 2011 World Cup final acted as Brad Thorn’s final appearance in an All Blacks jersey. The 45-year-old signed off his playing days with spells at the Sanix Blues, Leinster, the Highlanders, Leicester Tigers and Queensland Country before entering the coaching ranks in 2017. Now working as head coach of the Reds in Super Rugby.
5. Sam Whitelock
One of only two players in this starting lineup still playing rugby in New Zealand, Sam Whitelock has gone on to create the most formidable locking partnership of all-time with Brodie Retallick. Considered by many to be unlucky to miss out on the All Blacks captaincy to Sam Cane, the 117-test star will kit up for the Crusaders this year after a brief stint with the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan.
6. Jerome Kaino
A standout performer for the All Blacks at this World Cup, Jerome Kaino left New Zealand for a two-season deal in Japan immediately after the tournament, but returned to help clinch a second successive title in 2015. Played his last test for the All Blacks three years ago, and departed again in 2018 to join reigning French champions Toulouse.
7. Richie McCaw (c)
Forced to play three knockout matches in consecutive weeks virtually on one foot, Richie McCaw’s title-winning exploits nine years ago cemented his place as one of the all-time greats. His position as the best of all-time was then solidified when he captained the All Blacks to a second straight title to bring down the curtain on his 148-cap career. Now a part owner of Christchurch Helicopters, an adventure racer and promotional worker.
8. Kieran Read
Another two-time winner of the World Cup, Kieran Read couldn’t back that up with a third successive title as captain in Japan last year in what his final tournament as an All Black. Still an established legend of the game, the 34-year-old has since joined Toyota Verblitz in Japan’s Top League.
9. Piri Weepu
After becoming a cult hero as a result of his goal kicking prowess in the knockout stages of the tournament, Piri Weepu kept playing for the All Blacks until 2013, and eventually hung up his boots after a season with Wairarapa Bush four years later. The 36-year-old has since been starring in his own hunting and fishing TV show, Piri’s Tiki Tour.
10. Aaron Cruden
The third-string first-five following the tournament-ending injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade, Aaron Cruden followed suit in the final as he left the field with a knee injury that allowed Stephen Donald to infamously rise from zero to hero. Cruden stayed in New Zealand until 2017 before jetting off to France to join Montpellier, but the 50-test pivot is now back at the Chiefs.
11. Richard Kahui
Forming one third of the All Blacks’ ‘bomb squad’ back three, Richard Kahui’s best showing at the tournament came in the semi-final when he made sure Wallabies star Quade Cooper knew all about his physicality. His appearance in the final proved to be his last in an All Blacks jersey, though, with the 34-year-old enjoying a long-term spell in Japan with Toshiba Brave Lupus.
12. Ma’a Nonu
One of New Zealand’s modern-day greats, Ma’a Nonu continued to strut his stuff in New Zealand through until the 2015 World Cup. Three seasons with Toulon in France’s Top 14 ensued, which was followed by a shock return to the Blues as he attempted to make last year’s World Cup squad. It wasn’t to be for the 103-test star, who is now in the USA playing for the San Diego Legion in the MLR.
13. Conrad Smith
Nonu’s long-time midfield partner Conrad Smith also kept playing internationally until the 2015 World Cup, before moving to France to join Top 14 side Pau. The 38-year-old remained a player for the club until 2018, and has since moved into a coaching role.
14. Cory Jane
The 2011 tournament coincided with the prime of Cory Jane’s career, which saw him rake up a total of 55 tests before he missed out on selection for the 2015 World Cup. A few more years with the Hurricanes and Toshiba Brave Lupus followed, and the 37-year-old now works as an assistant coach for the Wellington-based Super Rugby franchise.
15. Israel Dagg
One of the stars of the 2011 World Cup, Israel Dagg wasn’t able to maintain his outstanding form going into the 2015 tournament, leading to his omission from the national squad. The 31-year-old launched an impressive comeback the following year, but an injury-ridden spell beginning in mid-2017 forced his retirement last year. Now works as a presenter for Sky Sport NZ.
16. Andrew Hore
17. Ben Franks
18. Ali Williams
19. Adam Thomson
20. Andy Ellis
21. Stephen Donald
22. Sonny Bill Williams
The obvious star of the bench is Stephen Donald, who completed the most unlikely of comebacks as the most ridiculed player in the country to slot the World Cup-winning penalty. The 36-year-old is still playing for the NEC Green Rockets in Japan.
Andy Ellis had also been playing in the Top League for the Kobelco Steelers, but announced his retirement following the cancellation of the season.
Andrew Hore, Ben Franks and Ali Williams have all retired and now work in fields varying from farming to media to the cannabis industry.
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