Robin Scott-Elliot: Final was a matter of life and Death ... played out in glorious black and white
View From The Sofa: Rugby World Cup Final, ITV1
Monday 24 October 2011
Death warmed up for the World Cup final by getting himself – or herself, it was impossible to tell beneath that enveloping black robe – on TV. There were a couple of astronauts too, dressed in white amid a black sea of replica shirts and black painted faces. With the French coming out in all white, this was a contest wasted on colour TV.
Everything was black and white. Sean Fitzpatrick, who remains scarier than Death, was in all black, while his fellow pundits, Michael Lynagh and Francois Pienaar, wore white shirts with black suits. The opinion has been black and white since the semi-finals: All Blacks turn up, All Blacks win. Pienaar had irritated the French to such an extent they had pinned his words on the dressing-room wall. "They are making me eat my beret," said Pienaar, the Benny Hill of South Africa's stand-up circuit, at half-time.
Pienaar and Co lived up to their billing, completing a good tournament for ITV with another showing as solid as befits men who have been there and done it. "There is only one thing better than playing in a World Cup final. Winning a World Cup final," growled Lawrence Dallaglio.
Alongside him, Nick Mullins has shone. He set the game up as "Invincibles versus Improbables". "Black or white, we're about to find out," he said in one of those scripted lines that can often fall flatter than an England World Cup campaign but this time caught the mood. This was sport at its most compelling, first engaging the neutral, then grabbing them with the ferocity and sheer grim, nerve-jarring drama of the script.
Fitzpatrick's smile was stretched tight at half-time. "They're OK," he said of his men, but for the first time in the tournament he did not convince. "That," said Mullins as the players trundled off at half-time, "has constantly had us raising our eyebrows."
Eyebrows advanced towards hairlines as the second half progressed. A camera fixed on Fitzpatrick would have made riveting viewing – we were given a glimpse later of him refusing to watch as Stephen Donald lined up the decisive kick. "Lives wait to be defined by the next 10 minutes," was Mullins' take as the clock ticked down. Suggesting there was "very little peaceful about Graham Henry's innards at the moment" was less poetic but, with nerves showing on Henry's usually inscrutable face, it seized a moment.
Before kick-off, Fitzpatrick suggested that New Zealand had to "harness that fear of failure", and in those closing minutes – "a game of inches", as Dallaglio put it – they did when it mattered most with the remarkable Richie McCaw in the middle of it.
It soon became a private party that was best left to Death and his black hordes. The camera caught McCaw, the walking definition of a captain, limping alone on to the podium ahead of the presentation ceremony. "The man of the nation," remarked Mullins, a somewhat more graceful summation than the All Blacks captain's immediate post-match judgement. "I'm shagged," McCaw informed the world. "Tomorrow," said Pienaar, "when he wakes up as a World cup winner, it's an amazing feeling and it never goes away." And there it is, in black and white.
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