Golden boys glow under a Black sky

New Zealand 10 Australia 22

Never mind the coaching staff, there will probably be a change of government in New Zealand. The All Blacks, favourites to beat their arch rivals and progress to the final of the World Cup, were outplayed and outsmarted at the Telstra Stadium. Hysteria in Sydney, a long black cloud over Auckland.

No country has ever successfully defended the Webb Ellis Cup, but the Wallabies have a chance here next Saturday when they meet the winners of the second semi-final, England or France.

Australia, who had looked no better than average throughout the tournament, produced a genuine upset, confusing New Zealand not only with the quality but also the passion of their play. A majority of the 82,000 crowd sang "Waltzing Matilda" before the contest andagain at the end as the Wallabies conducted a lap of honour, soaking up the hero worship from a crowd that looked all gold.

While the Wallabies coach, Eddie Jones, masterminded a bushwhacking of spectacular proportions, the All Blacks were left to agonise over another World Cup débâcle.

Since winning the inaugural competition in their own country in 1987, they have been repeated failures, and that is something which is simply not tolerated in a country that not only craves success, but expects it as a birthright. When New Zealand collapsed in the semi-final against France at Twickenham in the last World Cup in 1999, the axe swiftly fell on the coach, John Hart. John Mitchell, who took over last year in a job that ranks in status to that of the prime minister, was last night nervously fingering his collar.

''I'm accountable,'' Mitchell said, "but I love coaching, they're a fantastic group of players and I have no thought of handing in my resignation. It's up to my employers.''

Asked if the All Blacks had choked on the big night, Mitchell replied: "We got beaten by a better team. We are not chokers, mate. We put everything into this campaign and the effort was huge. These things happen. We'll have to be strong and get over it.''

Reuben Thorne, the captain, said his team were "heartbroken''. "Australia defended with their lives,'' he said. "They put us under a lot of pressure and we lost our composure. Thanks to everyone who supported us. We're sorry."

Jones said he had learnt from Australia's 21-17 loss to New Zealand at Eden Park last August. "We put a few bits and pieces together,'' he said. "New Zealand had been setting the standard for world rugby with their outstanding wits, rhythm and tempo.''

Here the standard was gold. Up to yesterday, New Zealand's handling had been slick; yesterday it was awful. Up to yesterday, Australia's handling had been awful. Yesterday it was slick.

What makes defeat all the harder to take in the land of the long white cloud is that New Zealand were supposed to be co-hosting the World Cup with their enemy, but Australia were given the whole shooting match. The NZRFU overplayed their hand in the commercial negotiations. And yesterday's result adds massive insult to a horrible injury. There was only one try apiece, but the Wallabies thoroughly deserved their victory by a goal and five penalties to a goal and a penalty after successfully implementing a considerable improvement on their form of the last month.

Four years ago, Australia won the Cup with a big defence that conceded only one try throughout the tournament. Here it was equally effective, and New Zealand were prevented from indulging in their free-running game. The Wallabies pack dominated possession, disrupted New Zealand's line-out and what little ball the All Blacks received was too slow.

As a result, Stephen Larkham had much the better of it against Carlos Spencer, who at times played more like Frank Spencer. It was Spencer's cut-out pass in the ninth minute that was intercepted by Stirling Mortlock, who ran 80 yards unopposed and Australia were set fair.

The try came two minutes after Mils Muliaina had crossed the Wallabies' line, but had the score disallowed by the video official for a knock-on as he was tackled by Lote Tuqiri. "They shut us down and didn't let us play our game,'' Spencer said. "All credit to Australia. It was frustrating for me, but it's hard to play without the ball.''

With Elton Flatley converting pressure into points with a series of penalties, the Wallabies established a 13-0 lead before Spencer capitalised on turnover possession to send Thorne over after a jinking run. While trailing 13-7 at half-time, the All Blacks appeared to be back in it, but there was no continuity, no authority to their performance and the Wallabies were quicker in thought and deed.

"We identified that they might be weak up the middle,'' Larkham said. "We had a strong gameplan and we put it into play, but we will need to improve the game for the final.'' While Australia can look forward to another momentous occasion on Saturday, the All Blacks will be forced to endure five days of purgatory before playing either England or France here on Thursday in the match to decide who finishes third. It is no consolation whatsoever for a country that will be in mourning.

Jones, asked who he would like to meet in the final, replied: "I don't care as long as England and France go into extra time and are still playing at midnight.''

New Zealand 10 Australia 22
Try: Thorne; Try: Mortlock
Con: MacDonald; Con: Flatley
Pen: MacDonald; Pens: Flatley 5

Half-time: 7-13 Attendance: 82,444

New Zealand: M Muliaina; D Howlett, L MacDonald, A Mauger, J Rokocoko; C Spencer, J Marshall (B Kelleher, 48); D Hewett (K Meeuws, 48), K Mealamu, G Somerville, C Jack, A Williams (B Thorn, 58), R Thorne, R McCaw, J Collins (M Holah, 73).

Australia: M Rogers; W Sailor, S Mortlock (J Roff, 72), E Flatley, L Tuqiri; S Larkham, G Gregan; B Young, B Cannon (J Paul, 49), B Darwin (A Baxter, 49), J Harrison, N Sharpe (D Giffin, 40), G Smith (M Cockbain, 72), P Waugh, D Lyons.

Referee: C White (England).

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