All Blacks win World Rugby Classic
New Zealand 17
Classic Lions 3
Troy Flavell, the All Blacks back-row forward, hailed his side’s World Rugby Classic final win over the Classic Lions as the ‘icing on the cake’ on their return to Bermuda.
After a two-year hiatus, New Zealand won all three of their games, improving throughout the tournament at North Field, National Sports Centre as they overcame France and Argentina before Saturday night’s showpiece event.
They saved their best for last as they convincingly beat the Classic Lions 17-3 to lift the trophy and treat the crowd to a final, celebratory haka.
“It’s been a big week,” the 38-year-old Flavell said. “Three games at this age — it’s quite a push!
“For all the competitors over the past week, it’s been a big one and it’s been a hard ask for a lot of the guys.
“There’s been a nice competitive nature as we once were when we played at a higher level.
“We’re just stoked to get the win. It’s the icing on the cake for us.”
In blustery conditions, Lions paid the price for not taking early chances.
Excellent work after five minutes from Dan Parks, Dafydd James and James Grindal should have resulted in a try, only for some superb last-ditch defending from New Zealand to keep them out.
Defences then got on top until the deadlock was broken by the All Blacks after 27 minutes when an excellent drive propelled by the tank-like figure of Kees Meuws, the prop, created the space for Brendan Laney to release Charles Hore to go over in the left corner.
Laney missed the conversion and Lions fans would have been hopeful, with the kicking skills of Parks in their armoury, that they could take advantage of playing with the wind in the second half.
But the All Blacks were simply too savvy and extended their lead with a try five minutes after the interval from Chris Jack, although the conversion was missed by Felipe Contepomi, their guest player from losing semi-finalists Argentina.
New Zealand sealed their victory with a converted penalty try at the death, while a second-half penalty goal from Parks, the former Scotland international, was all the Lions had to show for their efforts.
Flavell, who won 22 caps for the All Blacks, paid tribute to his team’s defensive game.
“The wind played a part,” he said, “but our defence was excellent and they got frustrated — you saw that when they were forced to have a kick at goal out of sheer frustration just to stay in it.
“I think the wind died off a little bit in the second half but I have to hand it to them in the first half, they really stuck to their guns and put a lot of pressure on us.
“We were lucky to get a couple of those breaks and put some points on the board.”
Eyebrows were raised when the teams were announced, with New Zealand allowed to draft in Contepomi and Carlos Ignacio Fernández Lobbe to cover injuries
The Lions were able to bring in Mike Harvey and Dennis Walker, of the United States side. It is no disrespect to them to suggest the All Blacks got the better of the deal.
For Flavell, though, the interchanging of players was simply in keeping with the spirit of the tournament.
“For them to want to play [for the All Blacks],” he said. “It’s another honour for us.”
Chris Wyatt, the beaten Lions forward with two World Cup campaigns with Wales behind him, said that New Zealand had the squad to cope with injuries but added that his team were pleased to have the Americans in their ranks.
“Their best player in the last game was Stefan Terblance, who plays for South Africa and they bought in two beautiful, world stars from Argentina for their team,” he said.
“I don’t think they really needed to do that anyway but we were happy with the guys we brought in — two Americans who gave their all on the pitch tonight. Mike [Harvey] on the wing who saved a certain in the first half with his speed coming back and Dennis [Walker], who came on in the second half and took the ball up well and was there with his tackles the same as Mike.
He added: “We got beaten by a better side. We gave it everything and we came up a little short so all credit to the All Blacks — they did what they needed to do to get the win.
“All in all, it’s been a good effort by the team to come together for the tournament. Us guys didn’t know it each and hadn’t played with each other before and we showed great team spirit throughout.
“The whole tournament is fantastic — the ambience and the supporters, who really give you a boost because it’s not easy as you get a bit older to keep going! It’s great to be a part of it.”
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