Long dark cloud lifts as All Blacks close the door on 24 years of pain

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft. Photo: IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax Media
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft. Photo: IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax Media

The 24-year All Black gloom has lifted.

Finally light, peace and relief for a long-suffering New Zealand. A country that has hemorrhaging badly through the devastation of the Christchurch earthquake and Pike River mining disaster can find relief in the fact that they are again officially the world's best in what they do best - playing, living and breathing rugby.

After all, it is their game. A rejuvenating game, but still a cruel game. It is an all-encompassing passion that has given them so much anguish - long stretches of nationwide depression in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007, but not in 2011 when it was again became New Zealand's glorious game. The New Zealand rugby heart is once more in union.

From the Bay of Islands to Invercargill, the party will go on for weeks and weeks. And the celebrations began well before kick-off with the centre of Auckland transformed into a party zone of kilometre after kilometre of All Blacks jerseys, flags, banners with its owners converging on the city from all parts of the North and South Island to be part of an unforgettable moment of New Zealand history.

Arise Sir Richie and Lord Ted, you have succeeded in bringing home what New Zealanders have lusted for for so long - the Webb Ellis trophy, and proper recognition that they are No.1.

It wasn't easy though. The most spectacular and dramatic of World Cup finals was a torture test. The French were supposed to be flakes. Instead these ''spoiled brats'' showed unexpected fire and flair, and for all of the game flustered the All Blacks, especially when they moved their tactics away from a stodgy game plan they had used the previous six weeks to one that constantly stretched their attack to both sidelines. This surprised the All Blacks, who spent many minutes of the first half doing nothing but stopping wave after wave of French charges, which often had one of their clever back-rowers Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire and captain Thierry Dusautoir hovering nearby to keep the phase play going.

What saved the All Blacks was them being able to take full use of the big moment, while South African referee Craig Joubert looked too kindly their way at important times, ignoring offside play and breakdown indiscretions that should have cost the home team penalties. The All Blacks only had one good first-half opportunity, and it brought points, when the French lineout disintegrated and prop Tony Woodcock was able to amble through a big a gap as Auckland's Khyber Pass to score the opening try. Elsewhere there were jitters. Piri Weepu's general play and goalkicking were off, while Stephen Donald, the country's No.4 five-eighth who had to abandon a fishing expedition to join the All Blacks two weeks ago, suddenly found himself in the spotlight after having to replace a hobbling Aaron Cruden. At half-time, France were still in it as the All Blacks were only five points ahead.

They were right in it at the 47th minute when Dusautoir placed the ball next to the goalpost, and now just one point behind.

France were right in it after 65 minutes when they could have taken the lead through a penalty goal, but missed. And in the final minutes, they came so close to achieving the impossible victory. Somehow the All Blacks held on.

At full-time of a high-quality final, the long white cloud made one long collective sigh. The weight, the pressure, the expectation, the fear, the dread are gone. Now, New Zealand can get on with life.