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One step away

Heart and soul see New Zealand through

Graham Henry pays tribute to his side’s “huge ticker, huge character and guts” after they booked their place in next Sunday’s World Cup final.

AFTER A WEEK filled with nervous jitters, the All Blacks emphasised just how much this World Cup means to them with a ruthless semi-final victory over old rivals Australia this morning.

A brilliant slicing run from Israel Dagg allowed Ma’a Nonu to cross for the game’s only try in the sixth minute, but it was territorial dominance and brutal intensity at the breakdown which set the stage for New Zealand’s 20-6 win in Eden Park.

Afterwards, captain Richie McCaw described his team-mates’ efforts as nothing short of “awesome.”

We realised that we were going to have to front up, that we had to be on the job for 80 minutes. Every single man out there did their bit tonight but that’s what you’ve got to do in World Cup rugby.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans had sent his men out with clear instructions to pressure New Zealand’s backs under the high ball, and it was the resilience of Dagg, man of the match Cory Jane and Richard Kahui under pressure which made the key difference, McCaw said.

“I thought our back three were outstanding. The balls that came to them they looked after well. They kept putting the ball in front of us at the right times, which makes it easy for the forwards.”

It’s been building. It was a pretty good performance tonight, but we’re going to need it again next week. We won’t get too carried away but I’m very proud.

Coach Graham Henry was quick to pay tribute to his back three as well, but commended every one of the 22-man panel for a gutsy and dogged display.

“I’ve got huge respect for what Richie and the boys have done out there today,” Henry said.

“They showed tremendous character. Unbelievable. They played with huge ticker, huge character, guts, all those things.

Jane, Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui were outstanding under the high ball, but the physical presence of the whole team from the first minute to the 80th minute was superb.

“They just played for each other out there. Fifteen guys, 22 guys playing for each other. That was key.”

Afterwards, Kiwi-born Deans was forced to concede that his side had simply been outmuscled and outmatched.

“It was a very good performance by the All Blacks, they deservedly won that contest.

“Their work in the air was superior to ours. They secured the ball in the air where we didn’t. When they kicked, they were able to put more pressure on our receivers than we did on theirs. That was a big point of difference.

“We had to change the way we kicked because we just weren’t getting our hands on the ball and possession was key. When we had possession, we were able to bring pressure but we just didn’t have enough of it.

“Even with a change-up in our approach in the second half, we still couldn’t get enough possession.”

As it happened: New Zealand v Australia

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