SYDNEY, Australia — The All Blacks’ World Cup bogey continues and they will have to wait another four long years before they can get another crack at the prized William Webb Ellis trophy for the tournament’s winner.
A record Rugby World Cup crowd of 82,444 turned up to see the home side Australia comprehensively defeat a curiously out-of-sorts New Zealand 22-10 in Sydney on Saturday.
New Zealand has not won the competition since the inaugural tournament in 1987 and on Saturday’s showing never looked like making any inroads into this significant drought.
The Wallaby onslaught simply blew the silver fern away.
With fanatical home support, the Wallabies got onto the scoreboard as early as the ninth minute when the outstanding Stirling Mortlock intercepted a suicide pass from New Zealand flyhalf Carlos Spencer to race the length of the field to dive under the posts.
Elton Flatley duly kicked over the conversion from right in front and suddenly Australia found itself 7-0 ahead against the heavily backed All Blacks.
The opening score could so easily have been the other way as New Zealand fullback Mils Muliaina had crossed over the line a minute earlier, only for the TV match official to disallow the try as he had made contact with the corner flag before dotting down.
This early setback seemed to rattle the All Blacks, who themselves struggled to get points on the board after missing two kickable penalties.
By the 32nd minute the All Blacks found themselves with their backs firmly to the wall . . . in more ways than one.
Their feared backline could find no way past the fierce Wallaby defense and after conceding two more penalties, the scoreline read 13-0 Australia.
Just as New Zealand appeared headed into halftime with a mountain to climb, Spencer conjured up another piece of individual magic that has made him one of the best flyhalves in the world.
The All Blacks managed to turn the ball over in the tackle and scrumhalf Justin Marshall fed Spencer, who in turn zig-zagged his way through the Wallaby defense. His inside pass found captain Reuben Thorne who powered over for the try. Suddenly the All Blacks were back in it.
But not for long.
After the break the Wallabies were awarded a succession of penalties by English referee Chris White, which dead-eye Flatley made no mistake from, taking the score to 19-7.
New Zealand was uncharacteristically poor in the lineouts and made enough handling errors to suggest that it had received some Springbok coaching in this department.
The sides traded penalties and as time ticked away for New Zealand, the Aussie dream became closer to reality.
In the end the victory was thoroughly deserved as the predominantly Aussie crowd somehow managed to ignite some passion into a Wallaby side that had been largely stagnant in the tournament to date.
“That was a massive effort by everyone. We had to do that as we were playing the best team in the world this year,” said Wallabies skipper George Gregan. “It has given us an opportunity to play for the ultimate prize next week so we can’t get carried away.”
For the All Blacks and their fanatical support a bleak welcoming awaits them upon arrival in Wellington.
Dejected Thorne summarized their plight, “We lost our composure and couldn’t hold onto the ball. It’s a big loss.”
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