Weepu last off Eden Park to relish victory
Updated: October 16, 2011, 08:59
Send to a friend
AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Piri Weepu didn't want to come off Eden Park on Sunday.
The last time he headed to the changing room, a week ago following the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal win over Argentina, he discovered that his father had been trying to contact him with news that his grandfather had died.
Weepu wasn't slow to return to the changing room on Sunday because there might be bad news waiting. He merely wanted to savor the crowd's appreciation and applause for helping New Zealand overwhelm Australia 20-6 to reach its first final in 16 years.
The last All Black off the field capped an emotional week with a starring role in a win which delivered great relief and retribution.
"I can't really explain how the emotions are,'' Weepu said. "The boys are pretty excited to get through to the final, but it is back to work tomorrow. We have not got a lot of time to rest, so we have to get back into training tomorrow.''
The All Blacks meet France in next Sunday's final in Eden Park. They already beat the French 37-17 at the same venue in the group stage, in a match where Weepu was established as the team's leading scrumhalf and delivered on the coaches' faith.
He then became the backline's new playmaker, leader and goalkicker when Dan Carter was sidelined from the Cup due to a major groin injury. Weepu transitioned into that role with seeming ease, leading the All Blacks past the Pumas 33-10 with a career-best 21-point haul. But one of the biggest nights of his 55-test career was spoiled by news that his grandfather, Johnny Lui, had died. Weepu's father waited two days and until after the game to tell him.
Weepu left the team briefly to attend the funeral.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity (to play in the semifinal,'' he said. "It's a great achievement for me after coming off last week and getting the bad news. I'm pretty sure he's (grandfather) looking down on me and is very proud.''
Weepu wasn't quite as accurate with his goalkicking as he was against the Pumas, as he landed only three out of seven and hit the post once before he was replaced in the 57th minute. Even so, he left to rapturous applause. He had to return 11 minutes later, however, when Andy Ellis needed to fix his bleeding nose. In the meantime, Weepu enhanced his reputation as the team's Mr. Fixit by converting a 30-meter penalty. A minute later, he was off again when Ellis was cleaned up.
After both teams formed tunnels to honor each other's performances on their way off the field, Weepu grabbed Ma'a Nonu to clap the crowd. Nonu, his right arm in a sling because of a pinched nerve in his neck, followed Weepu to the other side of the park and back, but eventually left the scrumhalf on his own.
Weepu relished the statement win over Australia, which had beaten New Zealand both times the teams had previously met in World Cup semifinals.
"We worked hard during the week. We had to shut down their key players and defend well on the line,'' he said. "The boys will be proud of doing that and that the forwards muscled up on the pitch.''