All Blacks on the brink but Aussies ready to ruin dream
To call New Zealand v Australia tomorrow, the second World Cup semi-final, simply a rugby game would be crass. It is a piece of sporting theatre that has this nation by the throat.
But Ewan McKenzie does not do gross excitement. Even that Super 15 title win earlier in the year for his Queensland Reds, invoked only a passing, modest smile. Thus McKenzie seemed the ‘go-to’ man for an objective analysis, a calm dissertation on tomorrow night’s likely events.
“It has the same feel to me as 1991” he suggests, an opening remark hardly guaranteed to cool the fevered brow of the New Zealand nation.
“There was a tight game for us in the quarter final which we just snuck through (against Ireland, when Australia won in the final minute).
“We then played the best game of the tournament in the semi-final, against New Zealand (later to be known as Campese’s match)”.
And the Wallabies went on to win the final against a northern hemisphere team, in that case England. If they win tomorrow, they will play either Wales or France in the final.
Déjà vu? ‘Linky’ is probably only being a touch disingenuous. He does a rather nice line in tongue-in-cheek. But he does make one thing clear about tomorrow night’s semi-final.
“We play them more often than anyone else. It’s not an easy game but there is a familiarity there. Personally, I look forward to the games we play against them. Those are the ones you enjoy.”
And there’s more to suggest that old New Zealand intimidation, forged upon the haka, is no longer there in Australian eyes. “These guys (the present day Wallabies) don’t worry about things. Our generation was more worried by things like the haka. But these guys look forward to such opportunities.
“It is a different mindset now; they want to play these big games. And that’s a good thing because you don’t want to be crippled by anxiety. Perhaps some teams worry and think about playing them too much, especially in the northern hemisphere.”
Reasons to be cheerful for Australia? “Well, we can’t play much worse than last week against the Springboks. In fact, I know we will play better. New Zealand have always been under pressure, they have a very proud record (especially against Australia at Eden Park).
“But they don’t win every game. OK it’s Auckland but it’s still a footie field, its’still got grass in a rectangle. The environment you put to one side. So it’s well set up.”
No-one knows the mind of outside half Quade Cooper better than McKenzie. He brought the absolute best out of him in the Super 15 this year yet Cooper seems to have lost his way in this tournament, like the mariner in a storm.
Does McKenzie have any remedies?
“Sure, it wasn’t his finest game last week. But it wasn’t all about Quade. A lot of people didn’t play their best game but I bet they rise to the occasion this weekend and he is just as likely to play a blinder.
“That is the nature of young guys like him. They don’t get shy and he won’t hide. He won’t be too stressed.”