New Zealand booked their place in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final with a convincing 20-6 win over Australia at Eden Park on Sunday.
New Zealand are just 80 minutes away from possible Rugby World Cup glory after booking their place in the final with a convincing 20-6 victory over Australia at Eden Park on Sunday.
The hosts – the only unbeaten team left in the tournament – will face France at the same venue in seven days in a repeat of the 1987 RWC final.
New Zealand led 14-6 at half-time thanks to a try from centre Ma'a Nonu, created by a brilliant run and offload by full-back Israel Dagg. And further points from Piri Weepu provided the cement.
Conditions were perfect for a fixture many had billed as being fitting of a final. The anthems and Kapa O Pango were stirring but the biggest cheer before 21:01 arrived at the kick-off when public enemy number one, Quade Cooper, sent his drop-kick out on the full. Cue happy Kiwis.
What also caused bums off seats was the form of Dagg – back in the team following injury – and he immediately caught the eye with his fine running ability. The full-back was slicing Australia to bits during the first six minutes and when he cut down the right before offloading back inside to Nonu, the hosts were on the board. Inspirational nine Weepu was unsuccessful with his first kick but nine Wallaby missed tackles was far cry from their effort against the Boks.
Weepu struck the post moments later when openside flanker David Pocock was penalised at the ruck but did discover his range on twelve minutes from a similar position.
Australia needed a foothold at 8-0 down as a fired-up New Zealand looked to work the body of their trans-Tasman rivals. Digby Ioane almost provided the perfect fillip to their cause from a counter-attack but fell just short of the line following a good fend on the covering defence. It resulted in three points however via the boot of James O'Connor which helped ease the early loss of prop Sekope Kepu to injury, James Slipper was his replacement.
Their reprieve was shortlived though as back came the hosts with a Cruden drop-goal. Meanwhile, Cooper was having the game of his nightmares, slicing numerous kicks from hand to go with that initial kick-off, with many a coach probably eyeing up Berrick Barnes.
In fact Barnes did emerge as a blood-bin replacement for Pat McCabe soon after fly-half Cooper had shown character when sitting back in the pocket in response to Cruden's effort. At 11-6 the game was nicely poised for Australia going into the break but then an unlucky ricochet off lock Dan Vickerman that went forward to Adam Ashley-Cooper promptly put the lead back to eight at 14-6. New Zealand's public were breathing a lot easier for their side.
It was looking like being the same final as 1987.
History being repeated gained further momentum not three minutes after the resumption too when an Owen Franks tackle led to McCabe holding on in a kickable position, Weepu having the simple task of extending matters to eleven as Australia and Robbie Deans worked out the next score would be vital. The probability that would be Gold was reducing by the minute however as mistake after mistake, such as obstruction and fumbles, foiled them.
What was also noticeable was the lack of impact Pocock was having on proceedings, with a tighter rule on the breakdown applied by Craig Joubert. Sunday's official did not however have to be a rocket scientist to spot the side-entry from hooker Stephen Moore but Weepu sent his penalty wide from distance, which was set to be his last act due to the arrival of Andy Ellis for the final fourteen minutes. Australia had also put on Tatafu Polota-Nau.
The Wallabies' front-row change made little impact to their cause and it was in fact New Zealand's Andrew Hore who enjoyed the better closing stages, first winning a breakdown penalty and then being the middle of All Black dominance at scrum-time. The game was all but sealed thanks to returning scrum-half Weepu – on for a bloodied Ellis – knocking over three points to make it 20-6. The Kiwis were home and hosed, or so they thought.
Why? A yellow card for replacement Sonny Bill Williams for a shoulder charge on Cooper made for an anxious final four minutes but the hosts stood firm. Next, France – again.
Man of the match: New Zealand's forwards were dominant from minute one but it was the cutting edge that Israel Dagg brought from full-back that sees him wrestle this award from one of his pack. Dagg was a calming presence when Australia kicked long, sending fine returns into touch while also combining those with the mesmeric step that has been thrilling Crusaders fans all year. Mils Muliaina leaves his fifteen jersey in very good hands.
Moment of the match: The All Blacks came out of the blocks firing and when Ma'a Nonu crossed with just six minutes gone, they were well on their way to a first final in 16 years.
Villain of the match: You know him, New Zealand loves to dislike him. Quade Cooper played the villain for those wearing black in the stands. Not his best night in Gold.
For New Zealand:
Pens: Weepu 4
Yellow card: S.B. Williams (New Zealand – 76th min – shoulder charge)
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Rob Horne.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Romain Poite (France)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
By Adam Kyriacou at Eden Park