By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor at Eden Park
SO THE omens of 1987 continue and New Zealand have made it through to the World Cup final after comfortably seeing off the world’s No 2 side Australia. They now have a great chance of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time in 24 years as they will face an under-performing French side in Auckland on Sunday, a side they easily beat in the pool stages of this tournament.
It was a rather uninspiring match at Eden Park, however. Ma’a Nonu crossed in the sixth minute after a fantastic offload from Israel Dagg and after that there was only going to be one winner. The Wallabies dropped off far too many tackles in the first quarter and while they tightened up later in the game, they offered so little in attack that there was no way back.
Here are a few talking points from the match:
1. FEROCIOUS FORWARDS
New Zealand not only dominated the set-piece, particularly the scrum where they won a couple of penalties, but the speed and power with which they attacked the breakdown denuded the Wallabies’ ability to get quick ball and thus limited their attacking game. The All Blacks would target the ball-carrier in numbers, more often than not resulting in a turnover or penalty. They simply prevented the Wallabies from getting in their attacking groove.
2. ISRAEL DAGG
The All Blacks full-back may have been in the headlines last week for a drinking binge but against the Wallabies it was all about his fast feet and accurate boot. He ran some lovely angles, ripping through the Australian defence, showed bags of pace and could play the more conservative role of taking the high ball and booting it downfield. Mils who?! His rich display also highlighted the absence of Kurtley Beale from the Wallabies line-up. He is so often the one that breaks the gain-line and sets up attacks, and he was keenly missed by the men in gold.
3. THE HALF-BACKS
The All Blacks started this World Cup without a clear first-choice No 9. Dan Carter’s injury has since resulted in Piri Weepu being pushed forward as both the team’s general and goalkicker. While he was not as effective against the Wallabies as he was the previous week against Argentina, he still guided the team well and kicked important points. Aaron Cruden also looked assured as he played the biggest game of his career; calm and intelligent he made good decisions, kicked well and made a couple of arcing runs.
Australia’s half-backs didn’t perform quite as well. Will Genia often takes on too much himself and running into forwards twice his size is not the smartest move while Quade Cooper had another disappointing showing. Right from the off he faltered, booting the kick-off straight into touch and most of his actions were roundly booed by the crowd. He has a magical quality when he’s on his game but these past few weeks in New Zealand he’s not been able to cast his spells.
It’s hard to see New Zealand losing the final now; everything is pointing to an All Blacks win, and a big win at that. As it is, the third-place play-off could be a more intriguing affair. If Wales can find the motivation to play their best rugby they have a great chance to emulate their 1987 counterparts; they certainly deserve to finish this tournament with a win. But then nobody ever said sport was fair…