Rugby World Cup Semifinals: All Blacks-Wallabies, Another Battle in This War

Azzurri NZContributor IIIOctober 14, 2011

Rugby World Cup Semifinals: All Blacks-Wallabies, Another Battle in This War

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    When it comes to rugby there exists a fierce rivalry between Australia and New Zealand that has been stoked over the years. These two nations first played against each other in a battle of nations in 1903. A match the New Zealanders won 22-3 in Sydney.

    So in total these countries have contested 142 games of test rugby. 

    New Zealand: 96 wins (68 percent)

    Australia: 41 wins (29 percent)

    Draws: five ties (3 percent)

    So when it comes to rugby, New Zealand is actually the Goliath over its larger neighbour.

    When it comes to games played in New Zealand, the statistics show even more dominance with the All Blacks having won 76 percent of their home games against the Wallabies.

    The game is being played at Auckland's Eden Park. The last time the Australians won there was in 1986. That's 12 attempts offering zero success for the Wallabies. The last time the All Blacks lost there was in 1994 against the French.

    Then there's the battle of the coaches. Many New Zealanders fervently believed that Robbie Deans should have been made All Black coach in 2007, when incumbent Graham Henry failed in the quarterfinals (against France) in his first World Cup campaign. Such was the disdain shown at Henry's reappointment that many of Dean's one-eyed supporters vowed to never cheer for the All Blacks again.

    When it comes to Trans-Tasman clashes, Henry has shown an ability to out-craft his Australian opponents. His record is an exceptional 18 wins from 22 contests. That's a resounding 82 percent success rate. Not all these games were against Wallaby teams with Deans at the helm.

    Deans has had 14 cracks against his former countrymen. You can take that one step further, against his former team, as Deans played for the All Blacks in the eighties. As coach, he's won three games for the Wallabies. Robbie's comfort lies with the fact that he's won two of the last three battles.

    However, these are but numbers. Statistics that mean naught in the heat of the battle. Even the pride, the tradition and the legend of the game will play a minor part in the ferocity of what will be a titanic semifinal. The All Blacks have never beaten the Wallabies at a World Cup. Two losses in two semifinals, in 1991 and 2003. Further proof that these games create history rather than fall on history.

    So what are the best clashes between these two teams? What stories do they offer?

    Here's five games from five different decades. That offer some context into the history of this game.

1978, Australia 30 New Zealand 16: Auckland

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    Going into this game, the best the Wallabies had managed was one draw in 12 matches against the All Blacks.

    This was the final game in a three-game series. The All Blacks had won the first two tests, so effectively, this was a dead rubber. The Wallabies of 1978 were determined to take some pride out of this last match. They did not want to suffer another winless series akin to the Woeful Wallabies tour of New Zealand in 1972.   

    The Wallabies of 1978 will be remembered for two things:

    (a) the four tries their loose forward Greg Cornelsen scored at Eden Park and

    (b) their up the jumper move, where from a tap move, one of their players would literally smuggle the ball under their jersey so their opponents would have no idea as to who to tackle. 

    Cornelsen's tries all came from being Jonny on the spot and from his being able to scoop up loose ball and dot the ball down for a four-pointer, in close vicinity to the try line. It's estimated that in scoring his four tries, Cornelsen ran less than 20 metres with ball in hand.

    This result helped usher in an era of success for the Australians. In 1979, the New Zealand Rugby Union agreed to a one off test against the Wallabies in Sydney. New Zealand sent a young team. It was a game they would lose.

    Such was the Aussies' happiness that they would complete numerous laps of honours with the Bledisloe Cup, a trophy that had been forgotten for years but whose importance was about to be restored. 

1982, New Zealand 33 Australia 18, Auckland

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    The Bob Dwyer coached Wallaby team of 1982 was at the time, considered the most successful to have toured New Zealand. The squad included some of Australia's finest players including Mark Ella, Roger Gould and a young David Campese (making his test debut for the Wallabies).

    Campese brought to New Zealand his memerising goosestep, a fantastic turn of pace, which wrought frustration to his All Black opponents. 

    In 1982, the Auckland test was the series decider. The Wallabies scored first, a rehearsed back line move finished by their powerhouse fullback Roger Gould. From there up would step the mercurial All Black fullback Allan Hewson.

    In rugby, the fullback is the custodian who sits at the back of his team. In many instances, he's the last line of defence. Hewson weighed only 78kg and offered a slight build for a test rugby player. Many criticised his selection as an All Black, due to the light resistance he offered in defence. His detractors nicknamed him heart-attack for the panic that would ensue when Hewson was called upon to make a tackle.

    Hewie's most poignant moment as an All Black came in the preceding year, when converting a series winning penalty against the Springboks. On this day, against the Wallabies he would score a world record 26 test points (at the time the most achieved in one game) and in doing so seal another series win against Australia.

    In the scheme of things, this match offers three points of interest:

    (1) this weekend, Aaron Cruden will make his World Cup debut against the Aussies. The Wellington newspaper, Dominion Post ran a front-page feature on the diminitive 82kg first five. In today's terms, Cruden is considered tiny. Yet, he still weighs more than Hewson. 

    (2) the Wallabies achieved a win against the Springboks with minimal possession and territory. Almost making a mockery of Ella's quote.

    (3) Allan Hewson finished his test career, only six points short of being New Zealand's top point scorer. His place as All Black fullback was assumed by Robbie Deans. However, this would not be the only time Deans, a Canterbrian, would clash with a Wellingtonian with regards to the All Blacks jersey.

1996, New Zealand 43 Australia 6, Wellington

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    Wellington is known for its wet and windy weather. It used to be known for it's rugby park, Athletic Park. However this has since been demolished and converted into a community of old people's homes.

    The last game ever played at Athletic Park was this test. The first in the Bledisloe Cup series of 1996. The wind blew and the rain came down. The turf muddied by a series of sodden downpours. However despite these conditions the All Blacks presented a superlative feast of attacking rugby.

    Given the conditions the precision they achieved that day was astonishing.

    It was a team that included such heavyweights as Zinzan Brooke, Sean Fitzpatrick, Frank Bunce and Jonah Lomu. However, this was a true team performance. In the modern history of the game, probably no Bledisloe Cup game has seen one team give such a commanding display.

    The team also featured a young Christain Cullen, in the fullback position. This was Cullen's debut season as an All Black. In his first two tests Cullen scored seven tries. A hat-trick on debut against Samoa and then four tries against Scotland. Cullen's nickname was the Paekakariki Express. A name that picks up on the suburb, located just north of Wellington, in which he was raised. The crowd at Athletic Park knew they were witnessing something special with Cullen and his scintillating pace.   

    The Australians took on history in deciding to ignore the war call that the All Blacks give with their prematch haka. Rather than stand and face the challenge, the Wallabies continued their warm-up routines down the other end of the park. By doing so, maybe the Aussies stirred the ghosts of successes past that roamed the old fabled ground.

    As for Athletic Park, it was demolished soon after this game. A community of old peoples homes have since been built on its hallowed turf. It's place in the capital has been taken by the new stadium, the cake-tin which sits as party central in New Zealand rugby circles.

2003, Australia 22 New Zealand 10, Sydney

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    The 2003 World Cup campaign probably represents a moment when many New Zealand rugby fans questioned their undivided support for their national team.

    Coach John Mitchell had a style that verged upon arrogant. At times, he admonished the media and showed disdain for the rugby public and thus the All Black fanbase. He wanted to be judged on results alone. Ultimately, he was. His career as All Black coach concluded with the conclusion of this match.

    If ever anyone asks why was Robbie Deans not selected All Blacks coach, then this World Cup campaign probably offers the answer. Robbie Deans was John Mitchell's assistant.

    For despite his successes as a coach, Deans' record is full of personality clashes with outstanding talent. If Robbie does not like you, there's no chance you're going to being selected. This is currently being reflected with Dean's refusal to include Matt Giteau in the Wallaby side.

    Deans as back coach played his part in ensuring that the fullback phenomenon Christain Cullen would play no part in the 2003 World Cup campaign. Cullen's berth in the squad was filled by Leon MacDonald. This was not a popular move as Cullen was a try scoring hero adored by most New Zealand rugby supporters.

    Tana Umaga incurred an injury in the early stages of the 2003 tournament, when the All Blacks defeated Italy. Even though Umaga was fit for selection, the All Black coaches did not include him in the mix for this vital semifinal match.

    For the second tournament in a row, the All Black opted to play a fullback at centre. In 1999, it was Cullen against the French. In 2003, it was MacDonald who was preferred over Umaga to play centre against the Wallabies.

    In selecting Aaron Mauger and Leon MacDonald as the midfield pairing, the All Blacks entered the game with no notable physical presence in their back line. No one who could use a mix of size and explosive speed to make holes against the Wallaby defence.

    New Zealand's strategy centred on getting the ball wide to their wingers, Doug Howlett and Joe Rokocoko. To score, they needed to get quick ball to the outside of the strong Aussie centre Stirling Mortlock. Then there was that pass.

    It was the tenth minute of the game. Carlos Spencer threw a long ball out wide. There were a number of All Black backs set to attack the Aussie flank. Unfortunately the ball never made it to one of the All Blacks. It instead landed in the grasp of Mortlock's hand who used his pace to exploit the huge gap that his opponents created by sitting wide of him.

    The All Blacks went into this game as favourites. They had only weeks earlier, beaten the Australians 50-21 at the same ground. They choked.

    The All Blacks were blitzed and outpassioned. With questionable choices in selections limiting their performance.

    Well it's actually been eight years, George. No doubt you'd agree, this year's rematch will sure be interesting.

2011, Australia 25 New Zealand 20, Brisbane

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    The All Blacks entered Suncorp stadium, having lost to the Springboks in Port Elizabeth the week before. The Bledisloe Cup was safe with their having beaten Australia, at Eden Park 30-14. Whoever won at Brisbane would take the TriNations.

    In Brisbane, the Australians were up 20-3 at the halftime break. Their method was to blitz the All Black backs and outpassion their forwards. The All Blacks selection decision to rest a number of players and not make them to travel to South Africa, seemed to be backfiring as the team struggled to find their feet.

    The All Blacks managed an astonishing second-half comeback, getting the scores to 20-20. The All Blacks were starting to find their mojo. As the game progressed, they assumed more control. Increased effort being placed on dominating the set pieces. Then Dan Carter kicked the ball. It didn't find touch. The Wallabies launched a counterattack, that would conclude with a Kurtley Beale try.

    The Australians won the game. The TriNations was their for the first time in 10 years. They were happy to take on the demons of history; no team has ever won the TriNations and World Cup in the same year.

    This game was punctuated with moments. Samo's blinding long distance runs. Genia's sniping runs. Ioane's steps and jinks.The enterprise shown by Carter, Nonu and Smith to bring the All Blacks into the match. Cooper's unfortunate acts of cowardice against McCaw.

    The All Blacks suffered in the first half, injuries to loose forwards Kieran Reid and Adam Thomson did not help them as they struggled to contain a rampant display from the Wallaby back three.