New Zealand beats Australia 20-6 in Cup semifinal
Updated: October 16, 2011, 07:49
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) New Zealand will face France in the final of the Rugby World Cup after beating archrival Australia 20-6 in a semifinal Sunday, moving a giant step closer to the end of a 24-year quest for its second world title.
The All Blacks relieved the anxiety of a nation starved of World Cup success since 1987 by physically dominating Australia from the moment Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper miscued the opening kickoff, establishing commanding advantages of possession and territory.
The New Zealanders achieved a 51 percent share of possession and 64 percent share of territory with ferocious tackling and a firm, physical authority at the breakdown and set piece. Armed with those advantages and in control of the kicking battle it let loose a backline, managed superbly by rookie flyhalf Aaron Cruden, in which almost every player posed an attacking threat.
When the final whistle blew, a 60,087 crowd made up almost entirely of black-clad New Zealanders let loose a deafening roar of mixed relief and elation.
"I thought it was an outstanding performance. I thought the boys were very heroic out there,'' All Blacks coach Graham Henry said. "But the job hasn't been done yet. It's very important we understand that, get our feet back on the ground over the next two days and build again,'' for the final.
"I thought the guys' character was superb tonight and you can't ask more than that. Everyone who took the field gave 100 percent.''
The key figures for Australia on Sunday, the dangerous but erratic flyhalf Cooper, and the openside flanker David Pocock were outplayed by their opposites and swept along in the tide of a game controlled from its outset by New Zealand. Pocock, alone and frequently penalized, couldn't turn back that tide and nor could the Wallabies pack achieve a firm foothold in the match.
Now New Zealand face a French team which has beaten them twice in World Cup knockout matches but which it has beaten in pool play at this tournament.
"I think the All Blacks showed tonight that they're more than capable of winning,'' the final, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said. "They're an experienced group, for the nucleus of them this is their third attempt so they are well versed, they're hungry and they've got a lot of support around them, so they'll take a lot of stopping from here.''
Cooper was held in check Sunday by a defense which allowed him few chances, except under the most suffocating pressure. Similar pressure subdued Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia.
In contrast, All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden, in only his eighth test and his first in more than a year, played with the composure of a veteran behind a dominant pack. He cleverly marshaled an All Blacks backline in which almost every player represented a clear attacking danger but perhaps the greatest of which were the winger Cory Jane and fullback Israel Dagg.
Dagg created New Zealand's first try for Ma'a Nonu, linking with the center after splitting the Australian defense on a long, angled run in the sixth minute. Weepu kicked two penalties and Cruden a dropped goal as New Zealand took a 14-6 lead to halftime, then added two more penalties for the only points of the second half.
"Packing down for that last scrum I looked at Will Genia and he sort of said 'well done' so I was sort of like 'that's the job done,''' All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said. "But as Graham said (that's) the job done for this week.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves because we've now given ourselves a chance and that's what you're doing it for, to give yourself a chance in a final. We're going to have to make sure we get our feet back on the ground straight away and put a performance together the same if not better next week.''
Australia was seen as the greatest obstacle to New Zealand's bid to win the World Cup for the first time since it hosted the inaugural tournament in 1987 and at the end of which it also faced France in the final. France reached the World Cup final for the third time when it beat Wales 9-8 on Saturday.
The All Blacks and Australia agreed the match might hinge on the ability of one side to establish early dominance, then to maintain intense and continuous pressure. New Zealand did so, camping in Australia's half for the first 13 minutes.
Pressure finally told in the sixth minute when Dagg squeezed just inside the touchline and turned an inside pass for Nonu to score. Weepu missed the conversion and a ninth-minute penalty but goaled in the 11th, when Pocock infringed at a ruck, and gave the All Blacks an 8-0 lead.
Australia's first venture into New Zealand territory almost brought its first try when the dangerous winger Digby Ioane skewed infield on a strong run, fending Mealamu and carrying Cruden almost to the line before flanker Jerome Kaino carried him back. James O'Connor provided Australia's first points from a penalty, cutting the lead to 8-3.
At a controlled breakdown 30 meters from the goalline, Weepu passed to Cruden in the pocket and the young flyhalf slotted a dropped goal which made the led 11-3. Cooper replied with a dropped goal for Australia in the 30th minute.
Weepu added his second goal from five attempts in the 36th minute. He extended New Zealand's lead with a penalty just after halftime and added another nine minutes from the end.
Australia's lack of discipline told heavily in both halves while the All Blacks' discipline lapsed for the first time when replacement Sonny Bill Williams was sin-binned in the 76th minute for a shoulder charge on Cooper.
New Zealand has waited a long time to add a second World Cup title, almost quarter of a century punctuated alternately by high hopes and disappointment. After winning a tournament it both conceived and hosted in 1987, it was beaten by Australia in the semifinals in 1991, by South Africa in the final in 1995, by France in the 1999 semifinals, by Australia at the semifinal stage in 2003 and by France in the quarterfinals four years ago.
With each failure, New Zealand fans have grown more impatient and more anxious and the pressure the All Blacks play under at World Cups has grown more intense. After Sunday's win they are one step away from easing that anxiety and pressure. In a piece of historic symmetry, it will face France on the ground on which the long quest began 24 years ago.
New Zealand 20 (Ma'a Nonu try; Piri Weepu 4 penalties; Aaron Cruden dropped goal), Australia 6 (James O'Connor penalty; Quade Cooper dropped goal). HT: 14-6.