1991: After long string of wins it was a bridge too far

By David Leggat

Australia celebrate their victory in the 1991 World Cup semifinal.
Photo / Allsport
Australia celebrate their victory in the 1991 World Cup semifinal. Photo / Allsport

Outcome: The All Blacks lost their semifinal to Australia, 16-6 at Dublin

Put a couple of factors into the mix for this one.

The All Blacks, remember, had only known success thus far. They had swept all before them to win the inaugural event at home.

From 1987 until the start of the second tournament, the All Blacks had played 30 tests, losing just one, 21-9 to Australia in Wellington in August, 1990, with one draw against the same opponents in Brisbane two years earlier. So, on the day of the semifinal, they had won 32 of their previous 34 tests.

Nine of the 15 players that day at Athletic Park in 1990 lined up in the Dublin semifinal, including some of the greats, David Campese, Michael Lynagh, captain Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales.

Those years of unremitting success meant that some All Blacks had developed a whiff of superiority in their attitude to opponents and their public. They also had a core of seasoned players, who were just past their best.

In 1990, the selectors axed Wayne Shelford, the captain, No 8 and a leader of iron will and constitution. Did they underestimate their opponents? Unlikely, given that by this stage there was little between the transtasman rivals.

There was a backline disruption, with late arrival Kieran Crowley called in at fullback. Terry Wright, the lightweight but experienced wing, had been fullback for the first three games. But a shoulder injury had him replaced by wing John Timu in the quarter-final with Canada in Lille.

Crowley was flown across from New Zealand for the Aussies. It wasn't a day he'll remember fondly.

John Hart had also been added late to the All Black management. He and Alex Wyllie were both fine coaches, but distinctly different personalities. It was not one of the great New Zealand Rugby Union decisions.

On the day, the All Blacks played poorly; Australia effectively wrapped it all up in the first half, at the end of which they led 13-0 on the back of two fine tries - one scored by Campese, the other engineered by him for Horan.

The All Black backline organisers were criticised for failing to get a grip on proceedings, but essentially the feeling was of "one year too far" for a core group of players.

One key figure was missing that day, too. Michael Jones, flanker extraordinaire, watched from the stands, unable to play as the game was on a Sunday. He did not play or train on those days. Mark Carter got his job for the day.

Would he have made a difference? Probably. Enough to change the outcome? Unlikely.

The breakdown

Pool 1
Twickenham, London, 3 October
New Zealand v England: 18-12
Referee: J M Fleming, Scotland
Half-time score: 9-12
For New Zealand
Tries - M N Jones (1)
Conversions - G J Fox (1)
Penalties - G J Fox (4)
For England
Penalties - C R Andrew (3)
Drop goals - J M Webb (1)

Kingsholm Rugby Ground, Gloucester, 8 OctoberNew Zealand v USA: 46-6
Referee: E J Sklar, Argentina
Half-time score: 20-3
For New Zealand
ries - A T Earl (1), C R Innes (1), G H Purvis (1), J K R Timu (1), V L Tuigamala (1), T JWright (3)
Conversions - J P Preston (4)
Penalties - J P Preston (2)
For USA
Penalties - M A Williams (2)

Welford Road Ground, Leicester, 13 OctoberNew Zealand v Italy: 31-21
Referee: K V J Fitzgerald, Australia
Half-time score: 16-3
For New Zealand
Tries - Z V Brooke (1), J A Hewett (1), C R Innes (1), V L Tuigamala (1)
Conversions - G J Fox (3)
Penalties - G J Fox (3)
For Italy
Tries - M Bonomi (1), M Cuttitta (1)
Conversions - D Dominguez (2)
Penalties - D Dominguez (3)

Quarter-final, Lille, 20 OctoberNew Zealand v Canada: 29-13
Referee: F A Howard, England
Half-time score: 21-3
For New Zealand
Tries - Z V Brooke (1), J J Kirwan (1), B J McCahill (1), J K R Timu (2)
Conversions - G J Fox (3)
Penalties - G J Fox (1)
For Canada
Tries - A J Charron (1), C J C Tynan (1)
Conversions - G L Rees (1)
Penalties - M A Wyatt (1)

Semifinal, Lansdowne Road, Dublin, 27 OctoberAustralia v New Zealand: 16-6
Referee: J M Fleming, Scotland
Half-time score: 13-0
For Australia
Tries - D I Campese (1), T J Horan (1)
Conversions - M P Lynagh (1)
Penalties - M P Lynagh (2)
For New Zealand
Penalties - G J Fox (2)

Third place playoff, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, 30 OctoberNew Zealand v Scotland: 13-6
Referee: S R Hilditch, Ireland
Half-time score: 6-3
For New Zealand
Tries - W K Little (1)
Penalties - J P Preston (3)
For Scotland
Penalties - A G Hastings (2)

1987
Video: Great World Cup moments - 1987
In the beginning: Remembering our last victory drink
How we won: The All Blacks - Getting the nation back into black
Setting the scene: Long road to global rugby supremacy
A sending off that made Wallaby history
All Black memories: 'Dawn of a new era'
Tournament star: Michael Jones - Keeping up with Jones
Tournament action: Fans' lukewarm start fast turned to fervour

1991
Video: Great World Cup moments - 1991
How we won: The Wallabies - Defeats led to success
Aussie's winning mindset
'Beaten by a better team'
Tournament action: Fitter, faster England level the playing field
After long string of wins it was a bridge too far
Tournament star: David Campese - Campo's golden touch

- NZ Herald

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