All Blacks win World Cup blood feud

New Zealand at last begin to prove they are the best team in the world as they beat Australia to set up repeat of 1987 final against France.

Some say that rugby is war. And with the quantities of blood being staunched by medics as New Zealand defeated Australia 20-6 in Auckland on Sunday, you can see where the metaphor comes from.

This semi-final, at the place where the All Blacks last lifted the Rugby World Cup in 1987, lived up to the hype and played down Kiwi fears that their team would fall to yet another disappointment on the biggest stage.

The best group of players in the world finally looked as if they deserved the label. New Zealand have spent the 24 years since David Kirk hefted the Webb Ellis Cup at Eden Park as perennial favorites, and perennial failures.

The closest they have come is defeat in the 1995 final against a South Africa team emerging from the Apartheid years, a tournament on African soil that has been made into a symbol of Nelson Mandela’s ‘Rainbow Nation’.

No World Cup will ever come close to that one in terms of political and social significance.

But if New Zealand can end their drought against France next weekend, the emotional impact on a nation that has rugby at its heart will be immense.

In that sense, rugby is not war. It is the absence and antithesis of war. It allows us to care about games as an integral part of life, to follow players as heroes, and to attach the highest honour to the wearing of a simple shirt. In rugby, New Zealand have that more than anyone else.

Back to that blood.

Both Australia and New Zealand claimed before the match that a place in the final was all the motivation they needed, but two sides whose rivalry is the fiercest in the sport tore into each other right from the start.

Frantic early blows saw Australia quickly rocked back onto the ropes, with Israel Dagg’s fantastic offload to Ma’a Nonu creating the only try of the game after six minutes.

Seven minutes later, Digby Ioane battered through the All Blacks defence, steaming for the line with three players hanging off him in a show of total determination. The try was prevented, but Australia slotted a penalty for their trouble through James O’Connor.

The remaining scores all came from penalties or drop goals, with New Zealand winning the battles at the breakdown to allow kicker Piri Weepu to move the margin beyond the Wallabies as the injury toll mounted, with Dan Vickerman, Pat McCabe and Andy Ellis all seeing the inside of the blood bin.

By the time the final whistle went, the result had long been out of doubt. Few will now believe that France can prevent a repeat of the 1987 final, and stop New Zealand claiming a prize they have been earning for 20 years.

If they fail to claim that prize, then it really could be war.

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