New Zealand beat Australia 20-6 to reach its first Rugby World Cup final since 1995, where the All Blacks will face France in a repeat of the inaugural championship decider 24 years ago.
Inside center Ma’a Nonu scored the only try, Piri Weepu kicked four penalties and Aaron Cruden added a drop goal last night as top-ranked New Zealand extended its winning run at Auckland’s Eden Park to 26 matches.
The All Blacks, who led 14-6 at half time, secured their first win over the Wallabies in three World Cup semifinal meetings and will face two-time runner-up France on Oct. 23 at Eden Park in a repeat of the 1987 final. New Zealand won that game for its only World Cup title.
“We’ve now given ourselves a chance in a final,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said at a news conference. “We’re going to have to make sure we get our feet back on the ground straight away and put a performance together the same if not better next week.”
The French defeated 14-man Wales 9-8 two days ago after Welsh captain Sam Warburton was red carded in the 18th minute for a dangerous tackle. Australia, which had been seeking an unprecedented third world championship, will play Wales in the third-place playoff on Oct. 21.
New Zealand, which had lost a final, three semifinals and a quarterfinal since winning its only title, has had to contend with the loss of first-choice fly-half Dan Carter and his backup Colin Slade, who both suffered tournament-ending groin injuries. Cruden, who wasn’t in the original 30-man squad, started in the playmaking role last night and was able to orchestrate attacks on the front foot as the home forwards dominated.
The All Blacks won nine scrums on their own ball and twice earned possession on Australia’s feed by overpowering the Wallabies, who were restricted to a James O’Connor penalty and Quade Cooper drop goal in the first half.
“Clearly we did not have enough possession to build pressure,” Australia coach Robbie Deans said. “We were unable to get much momentum and that inhibited our attack.”
The 14-point deficit was Australia’s largest defeat in a World Cup knockout match.
“It was a very tough night,” Cooper told reporters. “Right across the board they were making it a personal contest between each player and they came out on top.”
The home team took the lead in the sixth minute when full-back Israel Dagg handed off flanker Rocky Elsom and managed to offload the ball from on the ground in the tackle for Nonu to touch down.
Weepu, voted man of the match in the quarterfinal win over Argentina after kicking 21 points, missed the conversion and then a penalty before finding his range in the 13th minute to make it 8-0.
O’Connor, who booted the winning penalty in Australia’s quarterfinal victory over South Africa, took advantage of a McCaw infringement at a ruck to cut the gap to five points.
Cruden and New Zealand-born Wallabies fly-half Cooper, who was being jeered each time he touched the ball, then traded drop goals 10 minutes apart to make it 11-6.
Weepu, who had missed with another penalty attempt midway through the opening half, slotted over in the 38th minute after Adam Ashley-Cooper was penalized for offside to put the All Blacks eight points up at half time.
Weepu kicked his third penalty early in the second half after Wallabies inside center Pat McCabe didn’t release the ball in the tackle. The All Blacks scrum-half then missed with a long-range chance from the touchline before getting replaced by Andy Ellis.
Cruden put another long-range effort wide as the All Blacks continued to dominate possession and field territory. Weepu, back on as a blood replacement for Ellis, took New Zealand two converted tries ahead in the 73rd minute before going off for Ellis again.
Although reduced to 14 men for the last five minutes after Sonny Bill Williams was yellow carded, the All Blacks defended their line to hold the Wallabies scoreless in the second half.
With the match approaching full time, the majority of the crowd of 60,087 at Eden Park celebrated by chanting “four more years” in reference to Wallabies’ scrum-half George Gregan’s taunt during Australia’s win over New Zealand in the 2003 semifinal in Sydney.
“It was an outstanding performance,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said. “The boys were very heroic out there. Everyone who took to the field gave 100 percent. We need to build towards next week and do the same again, hopefully.”