The All Blacks overpowered Australia in the second semi-final, winning 20-6 with an immense display of intensity, passion and commitment. They kept a tourniquet tight around Australia’s throats and never once released it.
But unlike France, who had edged home 9-8 in the controversial first semi-final on Saturday night at Eden Park, the All Blacks played some proper rugby. True, they managed only one try, touched down by Ma’a Nonu after a thrilling break by full-back Israel Dagg. But they made other openings and kept Australia firmly on the back foot.
A single tackle, after 61 minutes, told the story of the whole game. New Zealand had had 68% territory in the first half but Australia improved somewhat after half time.
The Wallabies turned over a New Zealand ball and half-back Will Genia gained possession. But in a flash, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw seized the Australian and drove him back six or seven metres. McCaw won the ball back and it epitomised New Zealand’s far greater ferocity, commitment and strength.
But the Australians did not help themselves. They employed dumb tactics, constantly kicking the ball away downfield or hoisting high up and unders above the
All Blacks defence. But wing Cory Jane (right) dealt so superbly with the aerial kicks that he won the man of the match award, although brilliant flanker Jerome Kaino must have pushed him close.
Australia never varied their tactics. And they had to work far too hard to get hold of the ball just to kick it away all the time.
Australian captain James Horwill admitted the better side had won and deserved to go into next Sunday’s final. “Credit to the All Blacks,” he said. “They outplayed us and deserved to win.”
McCaw described the win, which means a repeat of the first World Cup final in 1987 against France also at Auckland, as “awesome”.
“We realised that we were going to have to front up and be on the job for 80 minutes. The intensity was there and every man out there did their bit tonight. I am very happy with that.”
Questions will inevitably be asked of Wallaby coach Robbie Deans who presumably devised the aimless, flawed kicking strategy. It squandered the possession the Australians did win and worst of all, they went on doing it even when it was blindingly obvious it wasn’t working.
The early minutes set the tone for the whole game. Shaky Australian outside half Quade Cooper put the kick-off out on the full and from the scrum on halfway, New Zealand were never out of Australian territory before Nonu scored.
Cooper was Australia’s weak link and, from his pass, centre Pat McCabe was caught early in the second half and forced to concede a penalty which put New Zealand 17-6 ahead.
When an Australian scrum disintegrated with just eight minutes left, Piri Weepu kicked his fourth penalty (to add to Aaron Cruden’s earlier drop goal) to make certain.
The Wallabies could manage only a penalty by James O’Connor and a Cooper drop goal.
The game was won and lost up front and it could well be an identical story in the final next weekend.