Rugby League: Slick Kiwis storm into final

By KIP BROOK

New Zealand 49 England 6

BOLTON - The Kiwis stormed into the rugby league World Cup final yesterday, thrashing England in the first semifinal with an impeccable display.

New Zealand, who led 21-0 at halftime, ran in eight tries to add to the 48 they had already scored in the tournament.

They are destined to meet unbackable favourites Australia in the final at Old Trafford in Manchester next weekend.

The Kangaroos, who downed England 22-2 in the opening game of the tournament, played Wales in the other semifinal at Huddersfield overnight.

Many of the New Zealanders, including skipper Richie Barnett and Henry Paul, rated yesterday's victory in Bolton as the best produced by the current crop of Kiwis, including their victories over Australia.

New Zealand led 7-0 after 26 minutes when players from both sides became involved in an all-in brawl after Joe Vagana was provoked by England centre Keith Senior.

This sparked the Kiwis into action and they rattled on 36 points in a 33-minute burst. It was a fine display, particularly from the hard-working forwards, in appalling conditions - pouring rain and only 2 deg C.

It was England's biggest loss in the game they invented.

Man-of-the-match Stephen Kearney, who scored the opening try, said the Kiwis were thrilled with the win, but were not getting carried away.

"We're keeping our feet firmly on the ground after this. But it was an encouraging effort out there today.

"I went to Old Trafford as a spectator to watch Manchester United last week and it will be pretty special going back there to play in a World Cup final.

"They call it the theatre of dreams, but we're not celebrating tonight - the job is only half done.

"But it's great to make the final. I have been lucky, winning the NRL grand final in 1999 and now I find myself on the World Cup stage with a great side who have the ability to cause an upset."

Lesley Vainikolo (2), Willie Talau (2), Ruben Wiki, Nigel Vagana and Logan Swann scored New Zealand's other tries, with Henry Paul kicking eight goals and a drop goal.

Joe Vagana was put on report just before halftime for reacting to Henry Paul being hit high and late by prop Darren Fleary.

Any thoughts New Zealand had of keeping a clean sheet were dashed when Tony Smith scored minutes after the break to make the score 21-6.

But the Kiwis simply stepped up a gear and ran in five tries in the final 32 minutes.

Kearney said the Kiwis entered the World Cup intent on making amends for their 0-52 Anzac test thrashing by Australia.

"We applied enough pressure to find England wanting today," he said. "We showed tremendous commitment and the whole team were just fantastic.

"We have had a focus on making the final since the beginning of September and we have a mindset to succeed. But we know what a formidable task we have got in front of us next weekend. This means nothing until we achieve that."

Coach Frank Endacott said: "It was a terrific performance from the guys today. I was happy with our discipline and focus."

Barnett added that the secret to their success was that they wore England down with bone-jarring defence in the first half-hour.

"It just opened up after that. The game was won in the forwards because they were marking up out wide, so all the gaps were in the middle and off the fringes.

"I'm happy with our game-plan. We're going extremely well. I've said before we haven't been tested, but it's just the way we are playing at the moment. We keep on posting significant wins.

England coach John Kear said he thought the New Zealand display was "a bit special."

"The defensive work by the New Zealanders was outstanding," he said.

"In modern rugby league, once a team get on a roll you can cop a 50-point hiding, and that's just about what happened."

- NZPA

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