Auckland: After 48 matches and 45 days of sometimes breathtaking and often bone-crunching rugby, the 2011 World Cup drew to a close with New Zealand`s mighty All Blacks back on top of the world.
Last world champions in 1987, no nation would have felt the pain of those 24 barren years more keenly, and so, naturally, there could have been no more joyous champions than the hosts after their nervous 8-7 win over France at Eden Park on Sunday.
It proved the perfect end to a memorable tournament -- one which united an increasingly multi-cultural nation and which also went some small way to help heal the wounds of a nation scarred by natural disaster following the Christchurch earthquake which wiped that city from the World Cup programme.
Head of world rugby Bernard Lapasset had one word for the 2011 World Cup: "Extraordinary."
The Frenchman lavished praise on the organisers, the volunteers, the fans and on ordinary New Zealanders up and down a country of little more than four million people.
"This World Cup has served to remind us how much New Zealand has brought to world rugby," Lapasset, president of the sport`s governing body the International Rugby Board (IRB), told reporters.
"And it has shown New Zealand`s strength and its capacity to organise such an international event.
"You have heritage, you have culture in New Zealand... tradition. And we saw throughout the importance of the Maori culture and integration."
Former England captain and IRB vice-chairman Bill Beaumont was overwhelmed by the warm welcome visitors had enjoyed.
"You only have to wander around...see the excitement and how this country has embraced Rugby World Cup 2011," he said.
"Everyone who has come to New Zealand and the World Cup, from the big wigs to the fans, have been treated specially."
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, himself a former rugby international for Belgium, found the reception to the event to be "excellent" among his circle.
"What I could hear and see from fans around the world -- well, it was fabulous," he said. "I think it will do a lot of good for rugby and a lot of good for New Zealand in general."
Lapasset said that the spirit of the event had boosted the sport.
"We`ve seen the great mix between tradition and the values of rugby," he said. "I think today, thanks to New Zealand, thanks to this competition, we did strengthen the concept of `what is rugby?`.
"We want to create the right dimension for rugby to show it is one of the major sports in the world for this century.”
"And I want to thank everybody, the New Zealand government, the New Zealand rugby federation and the tournament organisers. Not just them, but also all the cities, the regions... and not forgetting Christchurch."
Christchurch was stripped of its matches after a deadly 6.3 magnitude earthquake in February. Damage was extensive following a 7.1 earthquake almost six months earlier and parts of the city were levelled.
The quarter-finals were moved to Eden Park in Auckland while the five other matches New Zealand`s second city had been scheduled to host were relocated to other venues around the country.
"Christchurch is part of this World Cup, part of its history," Lapasset said.
"We had to make a difficult decision, it was heartbreaking.
"But the success of this tournament has illustrated the strength of New Zealand -- the bar has been set very high for future World Cups."
The 2015 World Cup is scheduled to be hosted by England, while the 2019 version will be Asia`s first, staged in Japan.