In a highly physical encounter that saw several New Zealanders spilling blood for their cause, the All Blacks marched imperiously into their third World Cup final after a 20-6 triumph in Auckland. By STYLI CHARALAMBOUS
For every Bok supporter the image of a team in gold jerseys facing up to the Haka was a bitter pill to swallow after the carnage of emotions experienced during the heart-breaking quarterfinal loss of last week. Those Springbok fans in the stadium that made the trip in hopes of watching their team take on the mighty All Blacks, joined the locals in a showing their vociferous support for the home team.
Things went awry for Australia right from the kick-off, when under-fire flyhalf Quade Cooper, launched the starting kick straight into touch in what would epitomise the Australian performance for the evening. The home team didn’t wait to turn the screws on their opponents as they camped out in the Australian half, forcing the Wallabies to defend as they had to do against the Boks.
When Israel Dagg opened up the Aussie backline like the Red Sea to spectacularly offload to Ma’a Nonu to score in the 6th minute, the All Blacks took the lead at 5-0 and never looked in danger of losing it. Piri Weepu missed the conversion in what was a poor evening off the kicking tee.
Photo: Australia Wallabies’ Berrick Barnes (L) tackles New Zealand All Blacks’ Israel Dagg during their Rugby World Cup semi-final match at Eden Park in Auckland October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
The breakdown area that has been a massive bone of contention for many teams this World Cup, would have been closely watched by all and sundry as two notoriously successful fetchers in David Pocock and Richie McCaw faced up against each other. It didn’t take long for referee Craig Joubert of South Africa to blow Pocock up for the first of several ruck infringements that Bryce Lawrence had allowed him to get away with in the quarterfinal.
Weepu added a penalty in the 12th min to extend the lead to 8-0 before James O’Connor landed Australia’s first penalty to bring the scores to 8-3 after 16 minutes. Bar a couple of superb darting runs by winger Digby Ioane, the Aussies never looked like threatening the All Black line.
No team has won a World Cup with a scrum as frail as that of the Wallabies, and the struggling pack only helped to cement the All Black dominance of this match. When the two opposing flyhalves exchanged drop-goals, and an offside ruling sent the teams to the halftime change room at 14-6, New Zealand was clearly in charge – but with the Wallabies still within striking distance.
Photo: New Zealand All Blacks players perform the Haka before their Rugby World Cup semi-final match against Australia Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Phil Walter
The second half saw the excitable home crowd grow progressively louder in their supporting chants as the prospect of a home World Cup final crept agonisingly closer. As the All Blacks continued their dominance, the Aussies showed patches of inspiration, but for most of the match played second fiddle to a team that was just too strong, too inspired and too clinical.
The Aussie strategy of bombarding the New Zealand back three backfired spectacularly as Corey Jane, in particular, demonstrated his proficiency under the high ball with aplomb.
As Weepu’s penalty attempts sailed wide to keep the Wallabies in the hunt, the determined and accurate All Black defence ensured they would not lament the missed scoring opportunities. Even as the life of the Wallaby challenge was squeezed out of them, the physicality of the encounter never subsided with three or four All Blacks sporting bloodied noses.
Photo: Australia Wallabies’ Adam Ashley-Cooper (L) is tackled by New Zealand All Blacks’ Brad Thorn during their Rugby World Cup semi-final match at Eden Park in Auckland October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Referee Joubert confirmed what every Bok fan suspected, as the Australian penalty count at the breakdown, continued to climb. In by no means a perfect evening with the whistle, it was at least a performance that did not alter the outcome of the match as it did in the Wallabies’ previous encounter. If anything, it only reinforced the need for the IRB to relook the highly complex breakdown laws along with stricter governance of poor performances by referees.
Two more penalties by Weepu, who had returned to the field from a bloodbin substitution, closed out the match for the All Blacks, as the score remained 20-6 until the end, sparking ballistic celebrations in the stadium and all across the island nation.
The Aussies now face the almost demoralising task of playing in Friday’s third place playoff match against the Welsh, who will be without captain Sam Warburton, serving out a three-week suspension for his red-card tip-tackle in the semi-final.
In a repeat of the 1987 tournament, the home team now heads into the final as overwhelming favourites against a French team that have defied all odds (and themselves) to also contest their third final. The All Blacks hold the psychological edge over the opponents they obliterated 37-17 in the pool stages of the tournament. But France, will look to their 2009 Carisbrook win over the All Blacks for inspiration, when they ran out 27-22 victors in a rare home defeat for the Kiwis.
Already more team discontent is emanating from the French camp that has marred their entire World Cup campaign with the coach labelling his charges “spoiled brats” for celebrating their semi-final win with a night out on the town. Most fans expect a one-sided final as the All Blacks finally look to break their 24-year barren run at RWC. Come next Sunday, we’ll all be glued to our TV’s hoping the final doesn’t disappoint, as we ponder what might have been after the only team that looked like challenging the All Blacks were prematurely sent home. DM
For New Zealand
Pens: Weepu (4)
Yellow card: SB Williams (New Zealand – 76th min – shoulder charge)
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Rob Horne.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Romain Poite (France)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (SA)
Main photo: Australia Wallabies and New Zealand All Blacks players contest a scrum during their Rugby World Cup semi-final match at Eden Park in Auckland October 16, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray
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