Shaun Johnson’s last-gasp try earned New Zealand a dramatic 20-18 victory over England, while Australia crushed Fiji 64-0 in contrasting Rugby League World Cup semi-finals at Wembley Stadium in London on Saturday.
England fought back from 14-8 down to lead 18-14, but they conceded a last-minute penalty for a needless high tackle on Sonny Bill Williams and Johnson jinked over to level the scores, before kicking the conversion to send the defending champions into the final.
They will play archrivals Australia on Saturday at Old Trafford in Manchester in a repeat of the last World Cup final in 2008 when the Kiwis pulled off a shock 34-20 win over their neighbors.
“It was a real Test match and England had a great game today,” New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney told the BBC.
England opened the scoring after 15 minutes when powerful surges by forwards James Graham and Sam Burgess set up Sean O’Loughlin to cross the line.
Kevin Sinfield converted the try and kicked a penalty under the posts to put the hosts 8-0 ahead.
New Zealand struck back before halftime, though, thanks to a sublime piece of skill from center Dean Whare, who acrobatically kept the ball in play and flicked it back for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to plunge over from close range.
Scrumhalf Johnson converted from the touchline and he kicked a penalty just before the interval to send the sides in level at 8-8.
Tuivasa-Sheck claimed his second try four minutes into the second half following a sustained spell of New Zealand pressure and Johnson slotted over another penalty.
England were rocked, but they conjured a superb try of their own when a fine flat pass by Sinfield put Kallum Watkins through a hole in the Kiwi defense and the center dived over to score.
Roared on by the Wembley crowd, England sensed their chance and their forwards launched a sustained assault on the New Zealand line, before Burgess picked up the ball 20m out and stormed over.
Sinfield’s conversion put England 18-14 ahead with 11 minutes remaining, but after resisting waves of New Zealand attacks, George Burgess’ high tackle on Williams gave New Zealand good field position and Johnson took full advantage.
Australia outclassed Fiji, running in six first-half tries by Johnathan Thurston, Darius Boyd, Cooper Cronk, Jarryd Hayne (two) and Josh Papalii to lead 34-0 at the interval. Center Hayne completed his hat-trick in the second half, and further tries by James Tamou, Boyd, Brett Morris and Andrew Fifita sealed an overwhelming victory.