New Zealand and Australia advanced to a Rugby World Cup semifinal meeting, setting up a repeat of the final-four lineup at the first tournament 24 years ago.
Host nation New Zealand beat Argentina 33-10 in Auckland last night after Australia earlier ended South Africa’s defense of the Webb Ellis Cup with an 11-9 win in Wellington. France meets Wales in the other semifinal after upset wins over England and Ireland two days ago.
“There have been four tough games over the weekend and I’m sure that we’ll be better for that particular game,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said at a post-match news conference. “It’s the nature of knockout rugby.”
The All Blacks defeated Wales in the 1987 semifinals before winning their only world championship by beating France at Auckland’s Eden Park, which will host the remaining four matches at the tournament including the Oct. 23 final.
France rebounded from two straight losses in the pool phase to beat England 19-12 two days ago and secure a semifinal meeting on Oct. 15 with the Welsh, who defeated Ireland 22-10 to advance to the final four for the first time in 24 years.
Although top-ranked New Zealand’s 23-point winning margin was the largest in the four quarterfinals, the All Blacks only pulled away from the Pumas in the final quarter.
“These games come down to one or two moments,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said. “The last thing that you want to do is panic. There’s always going to be opportunities and it’s about taking them.”
Scrum-half Piri Weepu kicked seven penalties for a haul of 21 points, missing only one of his eight attempts at goal. Forwards Kieran Read and Brad Thorn ran in second-half tries and Aaron Cruden added a conversion.
Argentina had trailed 12-7 at the break after scoring the only try of the first half through flanker Julio Farias Cabello, which was converted by Pumas captain Felipe Contepomi. Marcelo Bosch added a second-half penalty that made it 12-10 before the home team scored the rest of the points.
“It was competitive for 60 minutes then I think the All Blacks showed their magic,” Contepomi said.
Cruden, who was called into the squad last week after playmaker Dan Carter suffered a tournament-ending groin injury, was on the pitch because Colin Slade, Carter’s backup, went off with a similar problem. Slade was today ruled out of the rest of the World Cup along with full-back Mils Muliaina. They’ll be replaced by Stephen Donald and Hosea Gear, team officials said today at a news conference in Auckland. Cruden will now assume the role of first-choice fly-half, Henry said.
“It’s a big change obviously and a major challenge for him,” the coach said. “I thought he handled the situation well at the weekend when he went on.”
In the matchup of two-time winners in Wellington, Australia edged past South Africa’s most-experienced team to reach the semifinals for the fifth time.
The Wallabies, who captured their first Tri-Nations title since 2001 in August, spent three quarters of the game in their own half and made 147 tackles to 53 by the Springboks.
“What you saw was the most experienced World Cup side really turn the screws on the youngest,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said in a news conference. “The boys came of age in the way they accepted that challenge and stood up to it.”
Springboks coach Peter De Villiers, who was appointed in January 2008, said he would step down following the defeat.
James O’Connor kicked the game-winning penalty for Australia in the 72nd minute after South Africa had rallied from 8-0 down to take a one-point lead through two penalties and a drop goal from Morne Steyn. Wallabies captain James Horwill scored the only try at Wellington Regional Stadium.
“In games like that you have to fight and find a way to win and that’s what we did,” Horwill told reporters. “It took a lot of guts to get the result. Moving forwards that’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to be a step up.”
The Wallabies weathered early pressure before going up 8-0.
Second-rower Horwill, who replaced Rocky Elsom as Wallabies captain before the tournament, powered over after the ball broke loose at a ruck when South Africa tried to run out from near its own try line. O’Connor missed the conversion, though slotted a penalty six minutes later.
Steyn pushed a 27th-minute penalty wide after an offside infringement. The Springboks fly-half was successful from in front of the posts 10 minutes later and missed with a long-range attempt with the last kick of the first half.
A 55th-minute Steyn penalty cut the lead to two points and he then put the Springboks ahead with a drop goal.
Pat Lambie went close with another drop goal attempt from near halfway in the 68th minute. Three minutes later, Radike Samo was taken out while he was still in the air at a lineout and O’Connor struck his penalty straight through the middle of the posts from out wide.
“We did enough to win this game and we just weren’t accurate enough,” Springboks captain John Smit said. “It really was a ding-dong battle between two good teams.”