A-Z of the 2011 World Cup
Auckland, North Island
And so, after seven weeks, 48 matches and 360 tries, the 2011 Rugby World Cup is over.
The final ended up as simple as ABC - All Blacks champions - so it seems fitting that we should follow suit. I'll start us off, you fill in your own suggestions.
A is for
Altitude Bar, the Queenstown drinking-hole where Mike Tindall and several other England players enjoyed themselves a little too much for the tabloids' tastes. See also Adductor Longus Tendon, the body-part that obsessed a nation after Dan Carter's injury robbed them of their fly-half phenomenon.
B is for
Beards. Not since the hirsute heroics of the 1970s has so much facial fuzz been seen on a rugby pitch. Canada's Adam Kleeberger and Jebb Sinclair led the way, but honourable mentions must also go to England's Dan Cole, Australia's Tatafu Polota-Nau and Italy's Martin Castrogiovanni. Chin up, boys.
The battle of the beards: Adam Kleeberger v Dan Cole v Martin Castrogiovanni. Photos: Getty
C is for
Christchurch. While the rest of the country tucked into a feast of rugby, the city devastated by February's earthquake ploughed on with its billion-dollar clean-up. Its World Cup matches might have been moved elsewhere, but no-one in New Zealand forgot about its plight for a moment.
D is for
Dusautoir, the inspirational French captain whose leadership and indefatigable tackling somehow steered a divided team all the way to the final and then very nearly won it for them. He has since been named IRB player of the year. See also Denis Simplikevich, the fleet-footed Russia winger who scored scorching tries against both Ireland and Australia.
E is for
Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu, the Samoa centre who landed in the hottest water after a series of furious Tweets attacking the IRB, Welsh referee Nigel Owens and anyone else within range. A sample of his work?
"IRB, Stop exploiting my people. Please, all we ask, is fairness. If they get a week, give us a week. Simple. #equ[al]ity #justice."
"Ok, it's obvious the IRB are unjust. Wales get 7 days, we get 3. Unfair treatment, like slavery, like the holocaust, like apartheid."
An apology followed. So did another Twitter rant.
"I can understand the hate!! Haha good luck u racist biased p****. Get s.a into next round. The plan was obvious. Can't wait 2 meet irb members in public."
"Wasn't about world cup today. RWC has been invalidated when they give us half the rest as the rich. It was about us v world champs. I'm proud to be Samoan! Irb, my bum, kiss it!"
F is for
The silver fern flags that hung everywhere you looked - from houses, on fences, on cars and up flagpoles the length and breadth of New Zealand. And for ferry, specifically the one across Auckland harbour that England centre Manu Tuilagi decided to jump off. Manu overboard!
G is for
Gatland, the Kiwi coach who prepared Wales so well that they were just a point short of their first World Cup final in history.
A rare smile from New Zealand coach Graham Henry as the All Blacks finally delivered. Photo: Getty
H is for
Henry, the Kiwi coach who went one better and took his country to their first Webb-Ellis trophy in almost quarter of a century. When the final whistle went at Eden Park, there are even rumours that a smile crossed those cantankerous chops.
I is for
Israel Dagg, whose early form triggered off my favourite Twitter debate of the entire tournament: the compilation of a special 'Middle-East XV'. If the line-up suggested by fellow tweeters was impressive - Dan Qatar, Mark Kuwaito, Omanu Tuilagi, Jordan Crane, Ronan O'Gaza, QUAEde Cooper - nothing could touch our coach, the legendary Syrian McGeechan.
J is for
Jerome Kaino, the All Black back row who received half the headlines of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter or Ma'a Nonu but was outstanding from start of World Cup to finish. Mention in dispatches too for Argentina's rampaging colossus Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
K is for
Karangahape Road, the Auckland street known locally as 'K Road' which was trodden by thousands of supporters' feet as they marched out along the splendid Fan Trail from city centre to Eden Park. What could have been a dull 50-minute trudge was turned by organisers into a match-day parade of carnival proportions - bands playing in every bus-stop, vans giving out free ice-creams, cross-dressers on stilts and smiling marshalls everywhere you looked.
L is for
Law 10.4, specifically sub-section (j), the implementation of which by referee Alain Rolland in the 18th minute of Wales' semi-final against France saw skipper Sam Warburton red-carded and the course of the contest altered forever.
M is for
McCaw. Ruled out of two pool matches with injury, unable to train before the games he did make, the Kiwi captain nonetheless produced Herculean performances when it mattered most. It wasn't just those famous turnovers, either - in the key semi-final win over Australia, McCaw left the breakdown battering to Owen Franks and instead tackled and tossed the Wallaby attack into oblivion.
Tonga's 19-14 defeat of France was one of the great upsets in World Cup history. Photo: Getty
N is for
New boys, the young bucks and fresh faces who lit up the tournament and made the wider world aware of them for the first time - George North, Toby Faletau, Sean O'Brien, Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg...
O is for
Officials. Rolland took a pasting in some nationalistic quarters for sending off Skipper Sam, but it was nothing compared to the fury directed at Bryce Lawrence after his laissez-faire performance in the Springboks-Wallabies quarter-final. Hate-mail, crank calls and a 60,000-name online petition all followed where cooler heads should have ruled. Did Craig Joubert get it all right in the final? The arguments will rage on and on.
P is for
Pocock, the Wallabies' turnover specialist who was threatening to be player of the tournament with a week to go. But, for his folk-hero status and the way he initially stilled a nation's fears after Carter's injury, it has to be the man known around town simply as Piri. Best-selling t-shirt in New Zealand? "KEEP CALM - PIRI'S ON." We'll let Weepu get away with that nervous wobble in the final itself.
Q is for
Quade. Started as the mercurial maverick who might inspire the Wallabies to World Cup glory; ended it on crutches after popping his anterior cruciate ligament in the third-place play-off, after seven weeks of spilled high balls, mis-directed passes and kicks that went out on the full. From public enemy no.1 to public laughing stock. Here's hoping he comes back stronger.
R is for
Rugby World Cup retirements. The 2011 showpiece marked the final tournament bow for several great stalwarts of World Cups past - Brian O'Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson; Shane Williams and Victor Matfield; Keven Mealamu and John Smit. Gentlemen, we salute you.
S is for
Three options: scheduling, as in far shorter recovery periods given to the second-tier nations compared to the big boys; Spala, location of the now legendary pre-tournament Welsh fitness camps; and "spoiled brats", one choice barb among the many directed by France coach Marc Lievremont at his baffled charges.
T is for
Tonga. The 19-14 win over France in the pool stages joins Western Samoa's defeat of Wales in 1991 and Fiji's victory over the same side in 2007 as one of the great upsets in World Cup history. Had they not allowed Canada to get away from them in an earlier match, it would have been Tonga (playing population: 6,800) and not France (314,000 registered players) in the quarter-finals.
U is for
Uplifting. The World Cup in France four years ago was blighted by the tactic of kicking the ball away, players terrified of being penalised for taking the ball into contact. The new interpretations at the breakdown might not have pleased all of the old guard, but they did make for more free-flowing rugby. Even when they didn't we had plenty of enthralling contests on our hands - Ireland v Australia, Samoa v South Africa, Wales v Ireland, Wallabies v Springboks...
V is for
Viaduct Harbour, the parade of bars and restaurants on the Auckland waterfront that were the centrepiece of all celebrations and wakes. Not as naughty as Marseille's Vieux Port had been in 2007, but for those of us who were there, maybe that's not a bad thing.
W is for
Walkie-talkie, as in the device taken from a female hotel worker in Dunedin by England's James Haskell to trigger another salacious front page scandal. And welcome, as in the wonderful reception Kiwis across the country gave to anyone over here for the rugby fun.
X is for
X-Factor, possessed in large qualities by stand-out stars of 2011 like Jamie Roberts, Israel Dagg, Imanol Harinodoquy, James O'Connor and Rhys Priestland.
Y is for
Yellow buckets. Confused? Don't be. At the Romania v Georgia match in Palmerston North, a game which could easily have been played out in an empty stadium, thousands of locals turned out in the colours of either team to cheer from the rooftops - including hundreds of students wearing yellow buckets as a sideways tribute to their adopted team's bright strip. It captured perfectly the way New Zealand took the tournament - and all its teams, big names or not - to its heart.
Z is for
Zealand's zenith. Okay, it might not make perfect grammatical sense. But can you come up with anything more fitting?