Before the World Cup began many (including bookies) thought Australia would be facing New Zealand in the final. Thanks to the Irish and a Springbok penalty in the 70th minute of their match with the Wallabies, the two pre-tournament favorites will now meet in a semi-final on Sunday, Oct. 16th. The match is being billed as the “match of the tournie” and the “real final”, but if the Aussies play like they have been, it should be a Kiwi cakewalk.
The Aussies got through to the semi-final by beating the Springboks 11-9 in the quarterfinal in Wellington on Sunday, Oct. 9th. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and the Fanzones of Wellington were packed with yellow and green jerseys and Kiwi school kids who have an early two week school vacation because of the two final weeks of the World Cup. The match had been billed as “Experience meets Youth” or “Age versus Enthusiasm”. The first 8 minutes lived up to the hype of two great southern hemisphere sides playing great rugby. At 11 minutes the Aussies scored the only try of the game when Aussie captain James Horwill plowed over from 5 meters out after a line-out caused by an excellent 50+ meter kick to touch by Quade Cooper (playing fly-half for the Wallabies). The rest of the match seemed to be one of the Springboks playing multi-phase ball and slowly trudging down the fall until a handling error or a Pocock poaching turned the ball over and Cooper would quickly give up possession with a kick which nowhere near matched the accuracy of the kick which led to Horwill’s try. At half Australia led 8-3, but by 10 minutes into the second half a penalty and a Morne Steyn drop goal had the Springboks in the lead 9-8. The pattern of Cooper kicking away possession and the Springboks bashing away in multi-phase play against great Aussie tackling continued until a line-out well within Aussie kicker O’Connor’s range. The Springbok’s most capped player Victor Matfield fouled the Aussie jumper and the rest is – well, history. The rest of the match was more Springbok battering themselves against the Aussie tackling machine. The possession stats at the end of the match were astounding. The South Africans had ball possession almost 70% of the match. If it weren’t for the importance of the match, how close the score was, and that there were two southern hemisphere sides playing, many pundits would be writing of how this was another example of boring northern hemisphere rugby.
The Kiwis have made their expected arrival at the semi-final match with Australia through a grueling battle with the Argentines. The final score of 33-10 does no justice to how close this match truly was. The Argentines played with amazing heart and were down 15-10 five minutes into the second half. Again I have to go back on my not talking about the reffing promise. A blatant shoulder block on Argentine fly-half Contemponi as he was chasing a kick, which could have led to another Argentine try, was ignored by both the ref (Nigel Owens) and assistant ref. The Kiwis were ultimately the better side, but the match has taken its toll. Another Kiwi fly-half (Colin Slade) is out of the tournament. They seem to be going through half backs quicker than a rotund Springbok fan goes through grilled sausages and Steinlager. Fortunately they seem to have an adequate supply and probably won’t really need a good one until they meet either France or Wales in the final.
Australia and New Zealand have met twice before in the World Cup and Australia won both times . In ’91 they won 16-6 and in ’03 the margin was 22-10. Trepidation must be growing in Kiwi hearts. Their national hero Dan Carter has fallen with a groin injury. His back-up Colin Slade is out. Team captain Richie McCaw is teetering on supposed fragile- as- glass feet, and if they get through the Aussies who tipped them out of the tournament twice, they might be facing the French who bumped them out in ’99 and ’07. Thank goodness the kids are at home to take their minds off of the rugby.