Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Nation ready for destiny to repeat

All Black fullback Israel Dagg leaps over Australia's Anthony Fainga'a during last night's semifinal at Eden Park. Picture / Greg Bowker
All Black fullback Israel Dagg leaps over Australia's Anthony Fainga'a during last night's semifinal at Eden Park. Picture / Greg Bowker

The All Blacks will meet an erratic France in Sunday's replay of the inaugural Rugby World Cup final.

Graham Henry's men strangled the Wallabies last night at Eden Park to continue their quest to emulate their 1987 predecessors in the global record book.

In five subsequent tournaments the All Blacks reached one more final, the firecracker extra-time conclusion in 1995, but got no more silverware.

This time they and the nation will feel destiny is ready to repeat when they return to Eden Park for the seventh Webb Ellis Cup decider.

The 20-6 victory laid another layer over the memories of the All Blacks' last campaign failure as Henry's men dealt to their transtasman rivals.

It also cemented the fortress feeling Eden Park gives to the All Blacks, who last fell at the ground in 1994, to France, and to the Wallabies in 1986.

The All Blacks made a magnificent start. Quade Cooper helped them by kicking out on the full and from the subsequent scrum, the All Blacks smashed into their attacking game.

Fullback Israel Dagg and Ma'a Nonu were the rapier and the sledgehammer, forcing holes in the Wallaby defence while the pack hunted like Navy Seals.

It was a mix of stealth and power as Dagg scythed through, beat several tackles and, as he hovered near the touchline, offloaded to the trailing Nonu for the try.

Brad Thorn then stole a lineout and his teammates forced a penalty but Piri Weepu left his early kicking radar in the shed.

There was little respite for the Wallabies until Digby Ioane scorched upfield in a withering run to the line. He was stopped, but there was some illegal activity and James O'Connor knocked over the handy goal.

Round all the maelstrom, Aaron Cruden was calm and forthright in the biggest outing of his limited test career. He took the ball to the line, he slipped passes and kicked strongly and then, to fill out the CV, snapped a 38m dropped goal.

The Wallabies used the up and under frequently but Cory Jane, especially, could not be faulted in the air.

He defused each aerial assault while maintaining his crackerjack sorties and broken-field enterprise.

The Wallabies got into the All Blacks' 22 only a few times in the half but made little headway. That inability was underlined on the last foray when Cooper nudged over a dropped goal.

It was a neat effort but signalled the strength of the All Blacks' defensive line and the lack of phase play invention left for the Wallabies.

Cooper was sketchy, trying a variety of ploys but finding inroads awkward and life testing as the All Blacks searched for him in the backfield under the high ball.

Referee Craig Joubert controlled the game with his usual quiet authority.

He also pinged Wallaby breakdown expert David Pocock early for incorrect entry or playing the ball off his feet. It was another glitch for the Wallabies, who scarcely looked in the test by halftime yet trailed ony 14-6.

That margin was stretched with another Weepu penalty soon after the interval but the Wallabies were not done. They had a strong period looking for width, then an injection of Ioane through the centre, but the black line held. Hooker Keven Mealamu snaffled a decisive ruck ball in his massive workload, Jerome Kaino and Sam Whitelock slammed their tackle clamp on and other dangers were averted.

Then the All Blacks turned the screw. Captain Richie McCaw clawed a turnover away from Pocock, O'Connor had a clearing kick charged down and the pack kicked up a notch.

They were in the last quarter, they could smell a meeting with France but they had to keep their clamp around the Wallabies' windpipe.

Weepu, subbed on and off around Andy Ellis' bloodbin, kicked another penalty and the path to the final was clear.

All Blacks 20 (M Nonu, tries; P Weepu 4 pen, A Cruden dropped goal)

Wallabies 6 (J O'Connor pen, Q Cooper dropped goal)

Halftime: 14-6

All Blacks 20
Australia 6

- NZ Herald

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