RWC2011 has been an outrageous success. Despite the protestations of the naysayers, the ticket revenue target has been exceeded, and before Friday's play-off match, more than 1.35 million people had attended matches around the country.
But that all counts for nowt tonight. The final is a one-off, winner-takes-all match, and as a friend of many years standing is wont to say "There's no second prize in a gun-fight". Graham Henry, Steve Hansen, Wayne Smith and Richie McCaw have invested eight years of their lives in eighty minutes of rugby tonight.
The All Blacks start as hot favourites, and interestingly, there has been no attempt to try and paint any alternative scenario. That's because the All Blacks deserve to start as favourites; they were clinical and relentless against Australia, whereas the French, in feline terms, used up several of their lives in scraping home against a 14-man Welsh team.
Much has been made of the French having an advantage over the All Blacks at RWC time. That's not entirely so; sure, we lost to them in 1999 and 2007, but we beat them in the 1987 final, and again just four weeks ago; both times by 20 points. And we don't see the 2011 vintage of Les Bleu having anywhere near the panache of the 1999 French team.
That is not to say that France will not be competitive. They have a hardened forward pack, and an excellent loose trio. But so does New Zealand. Tony Woodcock has played a lot of rugby in RWC2011, and has got better with every minute. Owen Franks has likewise peaked, and Keven Mealamu played what we believed was his best-ever test match last Sunday; he was outstanding. Brad Thorn will be keen to make his 59th and final test a memorable one, and Sam Whitelock's athleticism is a real asset. And as good as France's loose forward trio may be, the combination of Read, Kaino and McCaw is the best in the world at present.
But it is in the backs where we reckon the All Blacks have an advantage. The dual halfback combination of Yachvili and Parra is competent, but we simply believe that from there out, the All Blacks are man-for-man better. The French midfield combination of Mermoz and Rougerie could be their Achilles heel, and the All Blacks breached the French at will in their pool match. Cory Jane played out of his skin against Australia, and Israel Dagg has been electric on attack throughout the tournament.
New Zealand should win this match, and could win well. But coulds and shoulds count for nothing in a sudden-death match. The All Blacks will need to be mentally strong, and to be confident without being complacent tonight. A start similar to that which they gave against Australia would be ideal, if not essential.
It's fair to say that this is the most anticipated rugby match ever in New Zealand; even moreso than that wonderful day on 20 June 1987. Eden Park will be packed with more than 60,000 fans, most of whom will be clad in black. Everything points to history repeating tonight, but there's always that nagging doubt. Let's hope that Henry and co can have this All Black side finely tuned tonight both physically and mentally, and that all those years of frustration and pain can be consigned to the bin.
Go the All Blacks; make it happen.