Wallabies waltz past All Blacks

WORLD CUP SEMIFINAL: The All Blacks had been hot favorites to win the title, while Australia had been heavily criticized for its recent lackluster form

AP , SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 24

Defending champion Australia stunned the New Zealand All Blacks 22-10 in Saturday's Rugby World Cup semifinal, winning a tournament record 12th consecutive match and sending the favorites out again in the penultimate round.

Stirling Mortlock cracked the match open with a long-range intercept try in the 10th minute and continually broke the New Zealand defense to earn a standing ovation from the 82,444 crowd at Sydney's Olympic stadium when he limped off with cramps in the 72nd minute.

But the Wallabies delivered on coach Eddie Jones' promise of surprises in the knockout phase and confounded their critics with an unconventional game plan that unsettled the New Zealanders, who were upset in a semifinal shocker to France in 1999.

The Australians will meet the winner of Sunday's semifinal between England and France in next weekend's final, while New Zealand will face the loser in Thursday's third-place playoff.

Elton Flatley landed six goals to keep the Wallabies ahead throughout, while skipper Reuben Thorne crossed for New Zealand's only try and Leon MacDonald landed a conversion and a penalty.

No defending champion had ever won a subsequent World Cup semifinal, although Australia hadn't lost after leading at halftime in the four years after winning the last title.

Setting up a thrilling last 20 minutes, New Zealand hadn't been outscored in the final quarter of any match in the tournament and the Australians had the best defensive record of any team in the tournament.

Australia opened the scoring when Mortlock intercepted a long pass from Carlos Spencer on the quarterline and sprinted 70m unopposed to slide in under the posts.

The Australian wingers had just pulled trysaving tackles in either corner, with Wendell Sailor tackling Joe Rokocoko into touch on the right and Lote Tuqiri forcing a Mils Muliaina knock-on with a crunching tackle into the left corner flag in the next phase.

Flatley landed a penalty in the 24th minute from close range after All Blacks No. 8 Jerry Collins was penalized for a dangerous tackle on Nathan Sharpe in midfield with the Australians on attack.

Flatley landed a penalty to make the score 13-0 before the All Blacks hit back, when Australia's high-risk gameplan came unstuck for the first time.

Stephen Larkham was dispossessed in midfield, Justin Marshall spread it to flyhalf Spencer, who dummied and dodged the defense on a 35-meter charge before unloading to Reuben Thorne and the captain dived over for the try.

MacDonald converted from out wide to reduce the margin to six points.

Flatley extended the lead to 12 points with penalties in the 42nd and 54th minutes when in ideal scoring positions.

His first of the half came after Collins was penalized a minute after the break and the second when Aaron Mauger was penalized for being offside after Larkham had surged into the All Blacks quarter.

MacDonald and Flatley penalties to maintain the 12-point buffer on the hour and the Australian inside center missed a long-range shot late as the last 20 minutes went scoreless.

In the meantime, the Australian defense had repelled the All Blacks for at least 10 phases in the 45th minute before Rokocoko dropped a clearing kick over the left sideline.

The All Blacks made a double substitution in the 48th minute, with Kees Meeuws coming into the front row for Dave Hewett and immediately causing trouble for the Australian scrum, and Byron Kelleher on for the injured Marshall at scrumhalf.

The Australian frontrow was reshaped with Jeremy Paul replacing Brendan Cannon at hooker and Ben Darwin injured in a scrum and carried from the field on a stretcher. He was replaced by Al Baxter, who made his test debut in the 21-17 loss to the All Blacks at Auckland in August.

The Wallabies had shown an intention to run wide at all costs, holding possession for the first five minutes and retaining it for up to eight phases, forcing the New Zealand to make 28 tackles before getting the ball for the first time.

Leon MacDonald shanked a 42-meter shot at goal in the 13th minute and his attempt in the 30th minute shaved the outside of the near upright and went wide.

Australia hasn't lost a World Cup match since a quarterfinal defeat to England in 1995.

And the win ended a poor sequence against the All Blacks, including two Bledisloe Cup losses to give trans-Tasman supremacy back to New Zealand for the first time in five years.

New Zealand recorded a comprehensive 29-9 win over South Africa while Australia took a less convincing 33-16 victory over Scotland in the quarterfinals.