“Four more years! Four more years!” That was the chant that went up around Eden Park on Sunday night as New Zealand’s All Blacks overwhelmed Australia.
It was a reference to a famous taunt from former Australian captain George Gregan, made as the Wallabies knocked New Zealand out of the 2003 World Cup. But it also showed the history and the depth of feeling amongst the crowd as the All Blacks beat the Wallabies for the first time ever at a Rugby World Cup, and reached their first World Cup final since 1995.
New Zealand got off to a perfect start in the match as Australian flyhalf and public enemy number one Quade Cooper sent his kick-off out on the full, to a huge round of cheers and jeers from a fizzing crowd. And the perfect start continued as the All Blacks attacked in wave after wave, culminating in a fine try to Ma’a Nonu after fullback Israel Dagg had beaten three men and then thrown an amazing pass from inches off the touch line for the supporting Nonu.
Halfback Piri Weepu missed the conversion but soon after converted a penalty attempt to take New Zealand out to an 8-0 lead. Australia then had a strong period on attack, with winger Digby Ioane making an incredible run showing his pace and power to get within 5 metres of the All Blacks’ line, before a penalty was called to Australia; James O’Connor made no mistake to bring the Wallabies back within striking distance at 8-3.
For the rest of the period New Zealand controlled territory and possession, but couldn’t muster another try or even a real opportunity for one. Flyhalf Aaron Cruden struck an excellent drop goal for the All Blacks, before his opposite number Quade Cooper replied in kind for the Wallabies. Piri Weepu missed one penalty attempt but got the next, to take New Zealand out to an eight point lead at halftime, 14-6.
In the ten minutes after half time Australia threw everything at the Kiwis, but some excellent defence and a few Wallaby mistakes meant that the only score was another penalty to Weepu, 17-6. An eleven point lead began to look like a big one the way the All Blacks were defending, and they appeared to get on top at the breakdown as well as at the scrum. The pace of the game began to slow as the All Blacks concentrated on territory and keeping possession.
The New Zealanders missed out on more points as Israel Dagg misdirected an atrocious attempt at a drop goal, and Cruden and Weepu both missed long range penalty kicks; but their defence did enough to keep them well on top of the match, and the final blow was struck in the 72nd minute as the All Black scrum splintered the Wallabies near their own line and Weepu stroked the kick over for a fourteen point lead. At 20-6 the All Blacks weren’t going to let this one slip away, and they finished the match with the triumphant crowd cheering on their every move.
New Zealand will face France in the final this Sunday with confidence; they have beaten the French once already in this World Cup, and go into the match as huge favourites. Australia will face Wales on Friday evening in the third place playoff, in what should be a tremendous match if both teams can keep their chins up and their desire to win high after semi-final disappointments.