Ticket target reached on eve of 3rd-place playoff
Updated: October 20, 2011, 02:49
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) With the prospects of watching the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup, and yet another chance to see the Wallabies lose, it's little wonder ticket sales have just hit tournament targets in New Zealand.
New Zealand beat archrival Australia in a World Cup semifinal for the first time to earn a spot in Sunday's final against another nemesis, France.
The two-time champion Australians dropped into Friday's third-place playoff against Wales, a match both teams are desperate to win in the wake of disappointing semifinal defeats.
More than 52,000 tickets have sold for the third-place match, which is only two nights before the sold-out final at the 60,000-seat Eden Park.
Revenue from ticket sales surpassed the 268.5 million New Zealand dollars ($213 million) target on Thursday, with Rugby New Zealand 2011 chairman Brian Roche saying it "shows just how strongly New Zealanders have embraced'' the tournament
Little doubt, most of the so-called neutrals in the crowd Friday will be wearing red. New Zealanders tend to support the All Blacks, and anybody who is playing Australia.
Wales won the third-place match at the inaugural World Cup in 1987, scoring late for a 22-21 victory over the Wallabies. New Zealand beat France in the final - and it remains the All Blacks only World Cup title to date.
"The beauty about this game is you get a chance to right some wrongs from last weekend and finish the tournament on a positive note,'' Wallabies captain James Horwill said. "They like to play an expansive game of rugby, they've shown that this tournament.''
The Australians came into the tournament on a high after winning the Tri-Nations title for the first time in a decade, clinching it with a win over New Zealand at Brisbane in August. An upset loss to Ireland in the group stage put them on a collision course with the top-ranked All Blacks in the semifinals instead of the final.
Now, the Wallabies could struggle against a Welsh team that has been a revelation in this tournament with its running game.
Wales coach Warren Gatland was bitterly disappointed after a 9-8 loss in the semifinals to France, when captain Sam Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tackle in the 18th minute, leaving his team with 14 men. Still, the Welsh could have caused a spectacular upset to reach the World Cup final for the first time, except three different kickers missed chances to score the winning points.
"We have come a long way and put together a string of performances that the nation can be proud of so far in New Zealand and we need to ensure that the history books reflect what we know we are capable of,'' Gatland said. "And it is only by beating the Wallabies on Friday night that we feel this will be achieved.''
New Zealand was a nation on the edge last week, cringing at the prospect of losing to Australia in a third World Cup semifinal and prolonging a drought that has extended since the All Blacks won the first World Cup.
The sense of relief has been palpable this week, with the All Blacks at almost unbackable odds to beat the French on home soil again.
The All Blacks coaching staff have said consistently since Sunday that the job is not over yet. Those sentiments were echoed by senior players such as 36-year-old lock Brad Thorn, who has played rugby league for Australia and rugby union for New Zealand and won most titles he's contested, except the Webb Ellis Trophy.
"You have to enjoy the moments,'' Thorn said Thursday. "A lot of work goes into a test match and after a match you enjoy it, but you know there is another test to come.
"Do you think anyone will care who won the semifinal? No, no one will care. It is what happens this weekend and we have got world-class opposition coming up against us.''
Just in case the All Blacks needed reminding, the French haven't given up yet.
"I don't feel like a future loser, or someone who has no chance of winning,'' said French winger Vincent Clerc, who has scored a tournament-leading six tries. "We're still in the final, and despite how we've played so far, it's Sunday that counts.''
New Zealand scored three tries in the opening 20 minutes of a 37-17 group stage win over France, but have been eliminated twice in knockout matches by the French in the past - including the 1999 semifinals and the quarterfinals four years ago.
Clerc was involved four years ago, and believes the current team is capable of winning despite what the critics have said and written of its losses to New Zealand and Tonga in the group stage and its narrow victory over the 14-man Welsh team.
"If we're here now it's that we deserve to be here,'' he said. "We've said for a while now that we came here to be world champions. Maybe it hasn't been a dream run, but we're going there to win.''