By Chris Hewett
Quade Cooper, probably the least popular man in New Zealand, started this second World Cup semi-final with a schoolboy error and ended it on the uncomfortable end of a schoolyard ragging, but in between times he pulled every trick he ever mastered – and a fair few that were still beyond him – in a bold attempt to keep Australia, his adopted country, in the hunt for the Webb Ellis Trophy. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the Wallaby nation, it takes more than a lone rugby conjuror to lead the All Blacks up the garden path in Auckland. There could have been 15 Coopers on the field yesterday and the hosts would still have won.
Some of the stuff produced by New Zealand in the opening 20-odd minutes was jaw-dropping: it may have been the best quarter of rugby played by anyone, anywhere, since the French put 33 unanswered points past them at Twickenham at the same stage of the 1999 tournament. A less resourceful side than Australia would have conceded a point a minute for the duration of the onslaught and the fact they emerged from it a mere five points to the bad was on the remarkable side of astonishing. Still, they never quite recovered from the shock.
The whole of New Zealand now believes the job is done: they assume the All Blacks will end their 24-year wait for a world title because they cannot see for the life of them how this current French vintage – so defensive-minded against Wales on Saturday, so negative in so many ways – can possibly resist the likes of Israel Dagg and Cory Jane, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu. Not to mention a pack greater than the sum of its parts and capable, on this evidence, of generating heat at the breakdown bordering on the molten.
One New Zealander certainly thinks they have it in the bag – and he happens to be the coach of the Wallabies. "The All Blacks showed they are more than capable of winning that final," said Robbie Deans, chastened by the magnitude of his side's defeat. "The will is there, they have an experienced group well versed in what they're trying to achieve and a lot of support around them."
Even at the last knockings, with the game lost, Australia could not break the New Zealanders' iron resolve: indeed, when their last attack broke down, the ball was hacked downfield towards the Wallaby corner and Cooper had to tidy up in the face of four rampant All Blacks hell-bent on mischief.
To his credit, Cooper tried to stand his ground – but the failure was inevitable. As a summing-up of the previous 79 minutes and 50 seconds, it was perfect.Reuse content