New Zealand v Australia, RWC2011 Semifinal, Eden Park, October 2011
Straight off, I have never experienced an All Black game like this. The revamped Eden Park is a stunner and was an amazing setting for this epic battle to decide who would meet France in the final. I was not even supposed to be going to this match. I had my final ticket stashed and ready should we make it, but the semifinal was not in the original plan… or budget. My mates Jimmy and Matt were going, but when Matt was offered another ticket via work, he offered me his. YES! We drove up, broke the journey at Taupo for a night, then continued on… it was a very exciting roadie. It felt like our time! (Like it does every four years). All week the Aussie media and players had been banging on about how all the pressure was on the All Blacks, and it was a line that proved to be as ill conceived and poorly executed as the Wallaby game plan. I regard New Zealand as 12 points better than the Wallabies on a normal day. Man for man they are weaker, yet the Reds Super win, and the Test wins against a weak Bok side and a less than fit All Black side led them to believe they were on track to seriously challenge for RWC. The All Blacks stood up and monstered the Wallabies, sending them packing 20-6. And they are lucky Gilbert produced a new standard of Flying Pig ball tha year, because had Piri Weepu been on target the Green and Golds could have been staring down the barrel of a 35-6 loss or something. From Quade Cooper’s first blunder at kick-off, through our early charges into their 22 that led to Nonu’s try, it was obvious the New Zealanders were there for 2003 and 2007 payback (and 1999, 1995, yadda yadda yadda). I watched another replay of it when I got back to Wellington and the highlight reel really does need to be 80 minutes long. Aaron Cruden tackled 120% and was sublimely confident, Piri Weepu’s legend continued to grow. Cory Jane was velcro-gloved under the pointless high balls, Dagg a constant threat, Nonu a handful as usual. Kieran Read made huge tackles, as did Owen Franks. Brad Thorn was everywhere, and along with Mealamu and, later on, Andrew Hore, just seemed to relish in and grin at contact. And Jerome Kaino? What can I say? He had been the granite in this team all tournament, every game so far, but for me his first half clean and jerk on Digby Ioane to deny a certain try will be an enduring memory of all All Black rugby. And Sir Richie of McCaw? Well, he bettered the supposedly best 7 in the world. Again. A flanker is nothing without a dominant pack, and Australia never got to go forward, they stood deep and could not get to the gain line. Pocock was lined up by our ball carriers and nullified. Brilliant to watch. Australia: Outplayed, outgunned, out thought. I could park two HQ Holdens in midfield and they would create more than any combination of Ashley-Cooper/Faingaa/Horne/McCabe. These players might tackle, but they do not attack. As for Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, I appreciate we are 80 very hard and nervous minutes against a quality French side away from possibly getting the World Cup back ... but that game was a vindication for them, their progress and their supporters. My confidence grew from the opening whistle, we just seemed to have so much momentum, and I thought we had this in the bag early in the second half. I was sitting with Jimmy though, and he was as nervous as I have ever seen him. Almost funny, had I not had flashbacks to myself in 2007… these games are never in the bag. Yet, as the clock hit 78 minutes last night, we launched into our “Four more years!” chant, as naturally as everyone else around Eden Park did ... it was a kind of mass catharsis that just manifested itself and was joyfully directed at the lads in yellow. Not clever. Certainly not original, no. But bloody priceless.