SAINT-DENIS – With the hopes of a rugby-mad nation resting firmly on their shoulders, the All Blacks have overcome pressure, scrutiny and a historic pool stage defeat to book their place in the Rugby World Cup final.
New Zealand secured their spot in the big dance for the fifth time after overcoming a valiant Los Pumas outfit 44-6 in Friday’s semi-final at Stade de France on a surprisingly dry night north of Paris.
As hours turned into minutes and the countdown for this highly anticipated knockout clash between two great southern hemisphere rivals continued to tick by, fans made their way into the Saint-Denis venue in their droves.
The Argentina fans set the tone with some passionate cheers and cries of support before the Test, but the All Blacks had thousands of supporters in their corner – only they seemed to be stewing in a state of nervous excitement as both teams made their way out onto the field.
Referee Angus Gardner called for time-on soon after, with Argentina playmaker Santiago Carreras kicking off the Test, but the All Blacks stumbled at their first hurdle.
Much as they did in last weekend’s blockbuster quarter-final against Ireland at the very same venue, the All Blacks looked nervous – far from what fans from the world over have come to expect.
Fullback Beauden Barrett cleared the ball from the kick-off, but it was a meaningless kick at best. Los Pumas mounted an impressive attack in return and it so nearly paid off for them. But a wasteful kick from Carreras gifted the New Zealanders a lifeline.
New Zealand kicked again, but it was another poor exit from a Barrett – this time it was Jordie. The All Blacks were under more needless pressure.
Following waves of relentless attack, the Pumas took the lead through an Emiliano Boffelli penalty goal in just the fourth minute. The All Blacks were stunned, sure, but only for a moment. Test rugby is a marathon, not a sprint, after all.
Following a series of penalties after Argentina, New Zealand went on to score the opening try of the Test through electric wing Will Jordan. Playing with an advantage, flyhalf Richie Mo’unga threw a lofty cut-out pass to send his former Crusaders teammate over for the score.
Jordan played a key role in another try just five minutes later by sending Jordie Barrett over for a score in the corner.
The All Blacks latched firmly onto their hard-fought lead, and while they didn’t concede any points for almost 20 minutes, the New Zealanders didn’t score any either.
Possession was split down the middle at 50/50 with the 30-minute mark rapidly approaching, but the Pumas statistically dominated the territory battle.
Argentina had their best try-scoring opportunity of the night late in the first term with Los Pumas building some well-worked attacking pressure with the try-line in sight. But their efforts were in vain.
The All Blacks’ rock-solid defensive wall stood firm as Los Pumas struggled to break through – but they didn’t walk away empty-handed. Another penalty to Emiliano Boffelli reduced Argentina’s deficit to just six points.
With half-time rapidly approaching, the semi-final battle tipped in the All Blacks’ favour once again as Mo’unga nailed a penalty in the 37th minute.
Shortly after, wing Mark Telea beat a handful of Argentine defenders to gift the New Zealanders one more try-scoring opportunity before the break. Flanker Shannon Frizell, rather casually, danced over out wide for the All Blacks’ third and final try of the first half.
But the All Blacks were even better after the break, and it quickly became clear that the full-time result was simply never in doubt.
Halfback Aaron Smith beat a couple of defenders to score a brilliant individual try just after the break. That score, it must be said, seed to suck the life out of the Los Pumas’ usually vocal supporters who were not sat firmly in their seats.
With the New Zealanders continuing to control the narrative on this fateful Paris night, they struck again through a familiar face in Shannon Frizell. The flanker had a double in a World Cup semi-final after crashing over from a pick-and-drive.
The All Blacks began to make some substitutions as they appeared to have almost certainly booked their place in the big dance. Codie Taylor was first, and then coach Ian Foster made mass changes – fullback Beauden Barrett jogged off with a well-earned smile.
While Scott Barrett was yellow-carded late in the piece, it was New Zealand’s night, and that wasn’t in doubt.
Another two tries to wing Will Jordan in the 61st and 74th minutes saw the All Blacks complete their dominant 38-point win over Los Pumas.
The horrors, heartbreak and disappointment of the 2019 semi-final defeat to England had been put to rest. For the third time at four Rugby World Cups, the All Blacks are off to the final.
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