AUCKLAND, New Zealand, October 23 – New Zealand erupted with a nationwide celebration Sunday as the All Blacks ended 24 years of hurt by the narrowest of margins with their 8-7 win over France to claim the Rugby World Cup.
The nail-biting closeness of the final kept a lid on festivities until the final whistle, but when referee Craig Joubert blew for full-time, the fireworks exploded over Auckland’s Eden Park, signalling the start of a nationwide party.
Fanzones, bars and cafes throughout the country were packed with fans — many dressed in All Blacks colours and with their faces painted black and white — who burst into cheers of celebration and relief when New Zealand won.
Parts of the inner-city Auckland area had to be closed to cars because of the large numbers of people flocking to join the tens of thousands who watched the match on big-screen televisions at the “party central” on the waterfront.
The one-point margin was enough to lift the “chokers” tag from the All Blacks who had only won the World Cup once before in the inaugural event in 1987.
They beat France 29-9 in that final and have continued to dominate the world rankings since but without ever regaining the trophy that symbolises total supremacy in the global game — until Sunday.
“My heart was in my mouth. Now we’ve finally got that monkey off our back,” said rugby historian Malcolm Mulholland as he celebrated at Auckland’s “party central”.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 24 years,” added John MacKenzie who admitted that during the second half he had nervous flashbacks to the 2007 World Cup when France came from behind to beat the All Blacks 20-18 in the quarter-finals.
“I thought we were going to thrash them, then when France scored I thought it could all go wrong again. But I’ll take this one-pointer.”
Andreas Heinemann had doubts when fly-half Aaron Cruden was injured and the All Blacks were reduced to their fourth-choice pivot Stephen Donald after Dan Carter and Colin Slade had previously suffered tournament-ending groin problems.
“Now I feel bad for doubting them, and now we’re going to head off along the fan trail and see what happens,” he said as he joined the crowd walking along the bar-packed streets from Eden Park to the party central.
French fans, very much in the minority, engaged in good-natured banter with New Zealanders but their chants of “Allez Les Bleus” were drowned out by the much louder “Go Black”.
The importance of the game to New Zealanders was magnified by the fact it was being played on home soil and came at the end of a grim year which has left the country desperate for positive news.
Devastating earthquakes in Christchurch killed 181 people, 29 people died in a coal mine explosion on the West Coast of the South Island and there is an ongoing crisis caused by an oil slick from a grounded container ship.
More than 6,000 people packed the fanzone in Christchurch which was unable to host any World Cup games due to earthquake damage at its main stadium, while in nearby Akaroa, New Zealand’s sole French settlement, an all night party was in progress.
“Everybody is right into celebrating and I guess it will be like this right around the country,” said Wayne Jones, owner of Bully Hayes Restaurant and Bar in Akaroa, who was planning to party on at his home after shutting the bar.
Although everyone in his bar supported the All Blacks, they unanamously agreeing France captain Thierry Dusautoir deserved the man-of-the-match award, Jones said.
Stephanie Wilson, a grand-daughter of former All Black Eric Tindill, found the closeness of the final nerve-wracking.
“I was on the edge of my seat for the last 30 minutes. I, was petrified. I can’t believe it. Finally.”
Hospitals throughout New Zealand had extra staff on duty as they expected the celebrations to result in a busy night.
Auckland City Hospital emergency department clinical director Tim Parke said they were prepared for cases of alcohol poisoning, road accidents, injuries and general illness.