Australia 6-20 New Zealand, Rugby World Cup, October 16, 2011
New Zealand choke Wallabies to set up France final
Graham Jenkins at Eden Park
October 16, 2011
New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu grabbed the only try of the game
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New Zealand powered into the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final with a superb all-round display despatching Australia 20-6 in their semi-final showdown at Eden Park in Auckland.
A blistering first half performance punctuated by a try for centre Ma'a Nonu and a rock-solid defensive showing after the break proved too good for the Wallabies and sets up a date with France next Sunday in what will be a repeat of the inaugural World Cup Final in 1987. Scrum-half Piri Weepu was once again a steadying force for the All Blacks with four penalties and along with a drop-goal from fly-half Aaron Cruden keeps them on course to end a 24-year drought in the sport's showpiece event.
Australia struggled throughout to match the intensity of their cross-Tasman rivals with a penalty from winger James O'Connor and a drop goal for fly-half Quade Cooper their only reward and as a result the Tri-Nations champions will have to settle for the chance to claim a 3rd place finish with victory against Wales on Friday night.
New Zealand led by eight points at the break but it could have been so much worse for Australia after they were caught in an All Blacks whirlwind. The game did not start well for the Wallabies with Cooper's kick off sailing straight into touch but that was the least of their worries as the All Blacks launched wave after wave of fast and incisive rugby. Fullback Israel Dagg's dancing feet were at the heart of everything good about the hosts' crowd-pleasing opening and it was his impressive pace that created the first try. Several defenders were left in his wake as he surged into the 22 and just when it looked as though he had been shackled, he flipped a superb offload to Nonu who touched down for the score.
Weepu was wide with the conversion but the onslaught soon resumed with lock Brad Thorn stealing a lineout before Wallabies talisman David Pocock was penalised at the breakdown, but Weepu hit the post with the simple kick. Cruden was the next to slice through as the Wallabies' defence continued to creak and while a good tackle from scrum-half Will Genia brought him down, another penalty against Pocock allowed Weepu to atone for his two earlier misses.
Given little chance to play, the Wallabies made the most of the limited opportunities that came their way with a powerful run from winger Digby Ioane taking him close to the line only for All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino to slam the door shut. But a penalty against captain Richie McCaw at least allowed O'Connor to put his side on the board.
Cooper's shaky start gave the All Blacks another foothold midway through the half but Weepu's radar continued to fail him. With his halfback partner struggling, Cruden came to the rescue with a beautifully struck drop goal after another ominous raid.
It was not until the half hour mark that the Wallabies could boast an extended run of phases inside the All Blacks' 22 and that pressure eventually allowed Cooper to land a confidence-boosting drop goal. But his score was soon cancelled out when centre Adam Ashley-Cooper instinctively laid claim to a loose ball in an offside position with Weepu able to double his personal tally with the kick.
The All Blacks pounced again after the re-start with Weepu's work at the breakdown earning a penalty that he slotted to ease the nerves of the nation. The Wallabies countered but lacked the precision required to prise an opening in a resolute All Blacks defence with the home side muscling up at the breakdown time and time again.
A sloppy penalty against Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore gifted Weepu a chance to add to his tally but his long range kick fell wide and it looked likely to be his last contribution as he made way for Andy Ellis. The replacement No.9 was soon spinning the ball back to Dagg in the pocket but his drop goal attempt was poor. Tempers flared as the All Blacks pack inflicted another wound soon after but Cruden was some way short with the penalty.
In contrast to their rivals, the All Blacks were full of ideas and kept the Wallabies on the back foot as the clock continued to tick down. But it was New Zealand's superior grunt up front that took the game away from the Wallabies. Another superb scrum resulted in Weepu's fourth penalty that edged his side nearer the final after the scrum-half came back on due to Ellis sustaining a head injury.
The Wallabies finally found some form late in the game with Cooper stepping his way up to the All Blacks' 22 where he was felled by a shoulder charge from replacement Sonny Bill Williams. The kick went to the corner for the lineout, as Williams trudged to the sin-bin, but it was familiar story as great defence from the All Blacks won the ball and with it the game.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.