The Malta Independent 13 July 2024, Saturday
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After silencing their critics, the All Blacks reach a record fifth Rugby World Cup final

Associated Press Saturday, 21 October 2023, 07:21 Last update: about 10 months ago

New Zealand started the Rugby World Cup with defeat to host France and a backlash of criticism. Now the All Blacks stand one victory away from a history-making fourth title.

The 44-6 rout of Argentina in the semifinals on Friday sent the All Blacks into a record fifth final. Only a few weeks ago, observers wrote them off following a 35-7 hammering by South Africa just before the tournament and then a 27-13 defeat to Les Tricolores for a first ever defeat in the pool stage.

“Criticism and stuff, outside noise, we have become pretty good at blocking out,” captain Sam Cane said. “We trust the coaching staff immensely, we trust the plan. It feels like we’ve built nicely to this point.”

Awaiting New Zealand in the final next weekend will be defending champion South Africa, which is also chasing title No. 4, or England. Their semifinal is on Saturday.

“I’ll be watching it, probably have some popcorn. Couldn’t care who wins to be honest,” New Zealand coach Ian Foster said. “It will be an interesting contrast of styles.”

While the All Blacks scored seven tries against Argentina, Cane is aiming for another defensive masterclass.

“History shows often a team that is defensively one of the best will end up winning the World Cup,” Cane said. “There are a few guys in our team who are incredibly passionate about it. We have a system we really believe in.”

Going into the semifinal, there was a question mark whether the All Blacks could back up physically and mentally their astonishing herculean effort to topple Ireland in the quarterfinals. They did, outclassing an Argentina side trying to reach its first final.

“I am incredibly proud of the way we backed it up tonight,” Foster said. “It is really satisfying, but now all the pressure of the final comes.”

The All Blacks' defense against the Pumas finished with 195 tackles, but 121 of them were in the first half when they missed only 10. That exhausted the Pumas, who threw everything at the All Blacks but were virtually out of the contest by halftime at 20-6 behind.

“Our forwards did an outstanding job — set-piece, maul time, earned a few penalties, got a bit of dominance and it kept a lot of pressure on the Argentinians,” Cane said. “We knew they're a team that will fight for everything and they wouldn't go away. So that ability to keep piling on points was pleasing.”

As the game opened up more in the second spell, the All Blacks showed off their ruthlessness by building attacks and battering the Pumas to the point of tapping out. They led 39-6 going into the last quarter, when they added only a hat trick try for Jordan.

Jordan could have had a fourth try in the match but Richie Mo'unga ignored the overlap and chose to go on his own and was wrapped up. No matter, Jordan has a tournament-leading eight tries, matching the single tournament record set by Jonah Lomu in 1995, Bryan Habana in 2007 and Julian Savea in 2015. And Jordan has the final to come.

The most lopsided semifinal result since 1987 when eventual champion New Zealand beat Wales 49-6 started with an early penalty for Argentina's Emiliano Boffelli after they wasted 14 phases in the first two minutes.

New Zealand scored its first try after 11 minutes. A kickable penalty was kicked to the corner, the All Blacks hammered the Pumas and narrowed their defense, and Mo'unga's double miss-out pass allowed Jordan to stroll over.

Minutes later, the Pumas were going nowhere after 10 phases when wing Mark Tele'a stripped Pumas scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou. Rieko Ioane and Mo'unga counterattacked and Jordie Barrett ended up rolling across the tryline.

The Pumas hit back with a 12-phase move that netted Boffelli’s second penalty kick but Mo’unga's penalty made it 15-6 and flanker Shannon Frizell walked over for the third try on halftime. At the end of 12 phases and way past 40 minutes, Tele’a broke through five tackles and Smith and Mo’unga set up Frizell. Mo’unga’s conversion attempt hit the left post.

Two minutes into the new half, another powerful All Blacks scrum allowed Smith to dummy opposite Bertranou, step inside winger Mateo Carreras and score their fourth try.

Another 18 phases by the All Blacks including a Mo'unga break finished with Frizell burrowing over for their fifth try.

The All Blacks then strung another 11 phases, at the end of which Tele'a dragged in four defenders and Jordan had another walk-in try, his second.

Hooker Julián Montoya, the Argentine captain, also paid tribute to New Zealand’s ruthless efficiency.

“Every opportunity they have they score," he said. "Awesome team.”

The only downer for New Zealand was Scott Barrett's yellow card with 15 minutes left for a cynical ruck foul and yet their discipline was still impressive. They conceded three penalties in the first half, seven in the match. Even with Scott Barrett in the sin-bin, they expertly worked a lineout move in which Ardie Savea's inside pass put Jordan in a huge gap on halfway. He collected his own chip ahead and earned the hat trick.

The All Blacks draining the tension early on added to a subdued atmosphere at the 80,000-capacity Stade de France, which previously hosted Ireland matches packed with 40,000 green-shirted Irish fans singing their hearts out, or hopeful fans of three-time finalist France.

New Zealand will take some stopping next weekend.

“We are in a good spot, in the final, exactly where we wanted to be," Cane said.

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