Failure to reach a first Rugby World Cup final is a harsh and barely-deserved reality after France shut out 14-man Wales to scrape through by one point.
|New Zealand are close to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time since 1987 [GALLO/GETTY]|
New Zealand’s relentless pressure and masterly forwards overwhelmed Australia in a brutal 20-6 semi-final win at Eden Park on Sunday to put them in sight of a first World Cup triumph in 24 years.
The All Blacks will be overwhelming favourites when they return here next weekend to play in a rematch of the inaugural 1987 World Cup final against France, also at Eden Park, which New Zealand won 29-9.
The Australians came off second best in the physical and tactical exchanges in the intimidating atmosphere of the All Blacks’ Eden Park fortress, where the Wallabies haven’t won since 1986.
The Tri-Nations champions were bloodied and beaten in every aspect by a ferocious New Zealand onslaught, that saw the hosts dominate from the opening kickoff and flustering the Wallabies into a multitude of errors.
Dynamic New Zealand ended a tense week of concerns over the fitness of captain Richie McCaw as they proved far too good for the Australians.
The Wallabies now have to console themselves with a bronze final with Wales on Friday – a repeat of the 1987 third place playoff.
Not only did Australia lose on the scoreboard but they had a lengthy injury toll with prop Sekope Kepu coming off with a facial injury after 21 minutes and Dan Vickerman and Pat McCabe going to the blood bin for running repairs.
It was another shaky night for Australia’s scattergun playmaker Quade Cooper, who was guilty of many poor options much to the roaring approval of the 60,000 capacity Kiwi crowd.
The Wallabies’ last win in New Zealand was 10 years ago and they have never beaten a Graham Henry-coached All Blacks side now in 11 encounters in New Zealand.
It all went horribly wrong from a kickoff Cooper sent sailing over the sideline to put the Wallabies under immediate pressure as the All Blacks ripped in.
New Zealand had all the ball in the opening six minutes before Israel Dagg sliced past Anthony Fainga’a and Rocky Elsom to send Ma’a Nonu storming over for the only try of the game to a mighty roar.
Wallaby flanker David Pocock was penalised for two ruck infringements in as many minutes, with scrum-half Piri Weepu kicking the All Blacks eight points ahead.
But Australia, who saw star full-back Kurtley Beale ruled out Saturday with a hamstring injury, gradually clawed their way back and wing Digby Ioane was held up near the try-line before McCaw conceded a penalty kicked by James O’Connor.
Cooper spilled a high kick before novice fly-half Aaron Cruden settled his nerves with a 22nd minute drop-goal to extend the All Blacks’ lead to 11-3.
The crowd roared their approval as Cooper continued to misfire and after 28 minutes of pressure the Wallabies had missed 15 tackles compared to the home side’s eight.
Cooper tried to get back on track with a calmly-taken drop goal to have the Australians trailing 11-6 after 32 minutes.
But Adam Ashley-Cooper was caught in an offside position from an All Black high kick, giving Weepu the chance to kick the penalty for a 14-6 half-time lead.
Australia again began the restart poorly and McCabe was penalised for not releasing, giving Weepu an easy penalty for a 17-6 lead.
Weepu sealed victory with his fourth penalty eight minutes from time for a 14-point lead.
New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams only lasted three minutes after coming on as a replacement before he was yellow carded for a shoulder charge on Cooper.