League: Kiwis into World Cup final in dramatic fashion

By Michael Brown in London

Issac Luke of New Zealand celebrates victory during the Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between New Zealand and England. Photo / Getty Images.
Issac Luke of New Zealand celebrates victory during the Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between New Zealand and England. Photo / Getty Images.

New Zealand 20
England 18

The Kiwis' defence of the World Cup continues. But only just.

Staring at being ousted from the tournament with only 30 seconds remaining, halfback Shaun Johnson produced a piece of individual magic when he stepped around three defenders to level the scores 18-18. He then held his nerve to land the conversion from a handy position to hand the Kiwis the match 20-18.

Read: Three key questions from the match.

It was an incredibly dramatic end to what had been an absorbing contest and worthy of the stage and venue. It was one of the best games of rugby league for some time _ better even than some recent Origin contests _ and the Kiwis were able to withstand some incredible pressure.

They will now meet Australia at Old Trafford next weekend, after the Kangaroos dispatched Fiji 64-0 in the later semifinal at Wembley.

It looked like England would hold on for a famous victory as they defended their line in the final stages but it finally cracked.

"It was an incredible game,'' New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney said. "It was a real test match.

"We had an opportunity with a couple of minutes to go and we were good enough to take it. We always back ourselves.

"We were fortunate today but we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance. I'm very happy.''

They will have to improve considerably if they are to feel the same way next weekend. Their forwards were outplayed by a strong and committed England pack who dominated for large periods.

Sam Burgess, in particular, was outstanding as he ran for 206m and made 29 tackles and three offloads in a man-of-the-match performance. He also laid on one try and scored another in a dominating display and left a number of Kiwis feeling battered and bruised.

The Kiwis will hope their win won't come at a big cost. Winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who has been one of the undoubted stars of the tournament, will go for an x-ray on his right shin and would be a massive loss if he missed out.

Manu Vatuvei should be fit to return for the final but there's also still doubt around second-rower Frank Pritchard.

New Zealand will be better for being in a scrap and coming out on top. They hadn't really been under pressure in this tournament but they had to absorb plenty of it this morning.

They started well enough, nearly scoring through Issac Luke in the fourth minute when he grubbered through close to the line only to be denied by some desperate Sam Tomkins defending.

Shaun Johnson of New Zealand celebrates his winning try with team mates during the Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between New Zealand and England. Photo / Getty Images.
Shaun Johnson of New Zealand celebrates his winning try with team mates during the Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between New Zealand and England. Photo / Getty Images.

But England soon gained the initiative and led 8-0 thanks to a try to Sean O'Loughlin, who gobbled a simple Burgess offload, and two Kevin Sinfield goals.

They were a lot more composed, getting to the end of their sets better, and were dominating the ruck.

The Kiwis got back into the match through a sequence of incredible skill displayed by so many players.

It started with Jason Nightingale climbing to slap a Kieran Foran chip back on New Zealand's left wing and ended with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck crossing for his seventh try of his short international career. In between the Kiwis shifted the ball nicely before centre Dean Whare managed an incredible back-flip pass when in mid-air over the sideline.

It was a moment of brilliance that seemed to have changed the momentum. Johnson landed a penalty just before halftime to level the scores 8-8 and Tuivasa-Sheck rounded out a good set-piece move four minutes after the re-start to give the Kiwis a handy lead.

But England were roared on by the terrific Wembley crowd and replied through Kallum Watkins and Burgess as they enjoyed a sequence of 11 sets to New Zealand's two.

At that stage, it looked like England would prevail. That was, until, Shaun Johnson stepped up.

New Zealand 20 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson 4 gls) England 18 (Sean O'Loughlin, Kallum Watkins, Sam Burgess tries; Kevin Sinfield 3 gls). HT: 8-8.

- APNZ

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