All Blacks emotional in powerful win to make final
Updated: October 16, 2011, 08:41
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Often accused of being the stern giants of rugby, the All Blacks showed their hearts and souls while beating archrival Australia 20-6 on Sunday to reach the World Cup final.
New Zealand said before the much-hyped semifinal that a win meant everything to them, and they showed it in their Eden Park fortress - not just in the way they sliced up the Wallabies in the first half and unleashed a frenzy of tackles in the second, but in how they congratulated each other for every turnover, and clapped every error they forced out of the Wallabies.
As the clock ticked closer toward fulltime, the increasing mistakes by Australia were cheered by the team and capacity crowd. When the All Blacks buckled the Wallabies' frontrow in a scrum with 11 minutes to go, forcing them to pop up and concede a penalty, lock Brad Thorn punched the air with two triumphant fists.
The raw show of joy is common enough after tries have been scored, but not in the middle of the field, and especially not from the oldest All Black to play in the World Cup. The 36-year-old Thorn despises try celebrations, but this was a match in which the All Blacks released pent-up frustration dating 20 years.
The Wallabies dumped the All Blacks out of two World Cups, in the semifinals of 1991 and 2003. They also lifted the Tri-Nations title from the All Blacks in the teams' last match before this World Cup.
Thorn, captain Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu and Ali Williams, all survivors from the 2003 campaign, got to exorcise that ghost of failed World Cups past and set up a chance to banish another old nightmare in the final against the All Blacks' other bogey team, France.
No team has dished out more World Cup misery on New Zealand than the French, whose playoff wins over the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007 are considered two of the biggest shocks in tournament history.
The All Blacks beat France in the inaugural final 24 years ago at Eden Park, but to the ever-growing dismay of New Zealanders their team has failed to win another Cup while dominating world rugby in between each tournament.
The mission to end that drought is closer to completion after smashing the Wallabies into submission.
"As a player out there you knew it wasn't finished until the 80 minutes were up,'' Mealamu said. "It was a great match to be a part of. If we didn't lift our intensity (from last week) we would have lost tonight.''
After the All Blacks built a 17-6 lead by the 43rd minute, the Wallabies did their best to respond, but seeing lock Sam Whitelock jolt the ball out of James O'Connor's grasp, and McCaw wrapping up Will Genia, driving him back 10 meters and stealing back the ball, their teammates were lifted to new heights of merciless belief.
"Four years of training, these guys have been frustrated ... four years to get things right,'' said coach Graham Henry.
"There's a lot of mental strength in this team now.''
"Brad Thorn was immense,'' he added. "They've got a deep down desire and a gut to do things.''
Piri Weepu lived up to his Mr. Fixit tag after he returned to the field from a spell in the bloodbin and kicked over the penalty for 20-6. He swapped back out with Andy Ellis to a second ovation.
Sonny Bill Williams' yellow card in the 76th might have been booed any other time, but because it was for a shoulder charge on Cooper, he was cheered and applauded as he left the field.
The 79th minute brought the thousands of New Zealanders in the crowd to their feet, knowing victory was assured, and when time was blown by referee Craig Joubert, McCaw finally smiled and joined his teammates in hugs of equal parts happiness and relief.
"I thought one to 15 were outstanding,'' McCaw said. "Up front if you look through the tight five and the guys who came on all played a hell of a lot of rugby and I thought that set the tone. But when you see the ball going back there and the back three take it and return the kicks with interest it (lifts you). They're special players and it's just good to have them in the team and all doing their job.''