RUGBY / A brutally efficient display of power game by the winner
Host New Zealand stormed into the World Cup final by overpowering Australia 20-6 in a brutally efficient display of power rugby at Eden Park here on Sunday.
The All Blacks, who had twice lost World Cup semifinals to the Wallabies, were superior in every department and never looked like missing out on a meeting with France next weekend in a repeat of the 1987 final — when they won their only title.
Centre Ma'a Nonu scored an early try and four penalties from scrum-half Piri Weepu added to an Aaron Cruden drop-goal proved more than enough to keep the Wallabies at bay.
Tri-Nation champion Australia scored through a James O'Connor penalty and Quade Cooper drop-goal but, as in its quarterfinal against South Africa, was feeding off scraps and unable to put any real pressure on its trans-Tasman rival.
Nowhere was the difference between the two sides more evident than in the way they dealt with the high ball — the All Black backs kicking and catching superbly where the Australians were inaccurate and clumsy.
Showing no signs of the jitters evident around the host nation this week, the All Blacks ripped into the Australians from the start and got their rewards when Nonu crossed to score in the sixth minute.
Fullback Israel Dagg, who was outstanding all evening, cut inside Anthony Faingaa and charged towards the line before flicking the ball out of the tackle to Nonu just as he was about to be bundled into touch.
Weepu missed the conversion and then the first of two penalties awarded in three minutes against Australia's openside-flanker David Pocock for leaving his feet at the ruck.
The All Blacks scrum-half nailed the second, however, to give his side an 8-0 lead in the 13th minute and it looked like being a long night for the Australians as the ferocious onslaught continued.
A tackle-smashing charge from winger Digby Ioane helped give O'Connor the chance to put the Wallabies on the board with a penalty in the 16th minute but it was a temporary relief and the black hordes were soon hammering at the door again. Cruden, New Zealand's third-choice fly-half, landed a drop-goal to extend the lead to 11-3 after 22 minutes and all the while his opposite number Quade Cooper was suffering a meltdown.
The New Zealand-born fly-half had booted the kickoff straight into touch and his evening barely improved from there with a series of confidence-sapping errors that delighted most of the 60,000 crowd. A neatly executed drop-goal in the 32nd minute would have been some comfort to him but Weepu added two more penalties in five minutes around the halftime break to make the score 17-6.
There was no more scoring for the next half an hour as the Wallabies launched more and more desperate attacks from their own half only to be stymied by bruising All Blacks defence or the whistle of referee Craig Joubert.
The home scrum had been well on top since Wallaby prop Sekope Kepu, who suffered an ankle injury last weekend, had to be replaced in the 21st minute.
New Zealand drove home its advantage on an Australian scrum in the 72nd minute and Weepu, who had temporarily come back on as a blood replacement, converted the ensuing penalty to take the lead to 20-6.
Replacement Sonny Bill Williams was yellow carded for a shoulder barge on the hapless Cooper four minutes later to give the Australians a glimmer of hope but the All Blacks were not to be denied.
Appropriately enough, the contest ended when Cooper was bundled into touch as he desperately scrambled to keep the game alive.
The result (semifinal): New Zealand 20 (Try - Nonu; Penalties - Weepu (4); Drop-goal - Cruden) bt Australia 6 (Penalty - O'Connor; Drop-goal – Cooper) . — Agencies