|Winners are grinners.|
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.
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.
Last night our All Blacks stood up and monstered the Wallabies, sending them packing 20-6. And they are lucky Gilbert has produced a new standard of Flying Pig ball this 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 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 am watching another replay of this on the Rugby Channel as I type this rubbish in, and the highlight reel really does need to be 80 minutes long. Aaron Cruden tackled 120% and was sublimely confident, Piri Weepu’s legend continues 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 has 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.
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 last night, they stood deep and could not get to the gain line. Pocock was lined up by our ball carriers and nullified. Brilliant to watch.
McCaw has beaten off not only human opponents in his 101 Tests, but also law changes that have constantly sought to deny his type of game ... and every time he has learned, changed and grown.
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.
And Quade? Well, let’s just say he reaped better than he played. The NRL beckons.
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 Bill back ... but that game was a vindication for them, their progress and their supporters, among who both Ferdy and I always counted ourselves.
We never wanted Deans, and laughed when the ARU grabbed him and crowned him saviour. The chickens have been tallied and they are now roosting comfortably in Sydney.
We know what its like to lose to at RWC, to be knocked out in a semi (and earlier) .. hell, Deans was even our coach when it happened in 2003! Yet, as the clock hit 78 minutes last night, my mate Jimmy and I launched into our “Four more years!” chant, as naturally as everyone else around Eden Park who 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.