Australia break All Blacks' hearts
October 27, 1991
Tom Horan beats the New Zealand defence to score
© Getty Images
Australia outplayed New Zealand on the occasion of their first match on neutral territory, to reach the 1991 World Cup final against England a week later. Dublin hosted this brilliant semi-final, a day after England had beaten Scotland 9-6 in a stodgy game at a wet Murrayfield. Antipodeans were quick to point out the different styles of the two semis, and were vindicated when the winners of the Dublin match went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup at Twickenham.
Both teams were star-studded, packed with what already were, or became, household names. After beating England 18-12 in the tournament opener, New Zealand were not seriously tested by USA, Italy or quarter-finalists Canada. Australia had waltzed through their group, beating Argentina and Samoa and hammering Wales 38-3 before a tough quarter-final in Dublin, almost stolen by Gordon Hamilton's epic try for Ireland four minutes from time. Only an injury time score by Michael Lynagh got them through, breaking Irish hearts but also winning them as the locals lent their support to the Wallabies for this match.
The teams' two Bledisloe Cup games in August had finished 1-1, adding to excitement in Dublin. While South Africa was still in sporting isolation, these 30 players included rugby's finest of the era. Nick Farr-Jones and Lynagh had Tim Horan, Jason Little and David Campese outside them, with Bob Egerton and Marty Roebuck, less stellar but no slouches. Opposite them, Grant Fox controlled a back division including John Timu, John Kirwan and Kieran Crowley, a late replacement in the squad for injured Terry Wright.
Among the forwards were individual rivalries. Best of enemies were hookers Sean Fitzpatrick and Phil Kearns, while Ian Jones and John Eales, two young locks who were to have the world at their feet for a decade, did battle in the lineout. The significant absentee was All Black openside, Michael Jones, the best in the business who refused to play on Sundays, so missing three matches in the tournament.
All Black skipper Gary Whetton and his twin Alan made their last international appearance together, with Zinzan Brooke at No.8 opposite Troy Coker.
As New Zealand performed the haka before kick-off in the faces of 14 Australians, Campese disdainfully kicked a ball around behind the posts.
Nick Farr-Jones looks for the offload © Getty Images
Australia's first half performance was magnificent; clinical and ruthless as they denied New Zealand everything and took every opportunity of their own. The opening try came after seven minutes when Campese, loitering in the fly-half position 20 metres out behind a ruck, took a pass from Farr-Jones and set off diagonally left, baffling the defence as he ignored a gap and continued his diagonal run to score in the corner. It was his sixth try of the tournament.
After Lynagh added a penalty, it was Campese again who created the second try. Seeing the All Black defence up in Australian faces, Lynagh chipped ahead from halfway. Tearing up the right wing in pursuit of the kick, Campes collected the ball as Horan weaved left and right in his wake until, by luck or judgment, he lobbed a perfect pass for Horan over his right shoulder while wrong-footing defender John Timu by looking left. Horan completed the score and Australia were 13-0 ahead at the break. In recent times, Campese's pass has been chosen by Fox Sport as the 'Number 1 Ridiculous Pass of All Time.'
New Zealand were stunned, forced into the unfamiliar situation of having to play catch-up rugby, but not out of the game. They won their share of possession with Jones particularly productive at the lineout, but the Wallaby defence swarmed all over them to such effect that they didn't get into the opposing 22 until five minutes before the interval. Notably, Fox did not have a shot at goal until the second half.
Fox, who should have commanded the All Black response in the second half, was guilty of "an abdication of responsibility" according to the Times. "The senior player should have lent direction, but did not." Instead, "(Graeme) Bachop and Kirwan became the main focus of New Zealand's attack. But for all their territorial ascendancy and their competitive lineout, their finishing was poor."
Two Fox penalties was all New Zealand could muster as they suffered their first World Cup defeat. It was the first time they had failed to score a try in a World Cup game and remains the only occasion of which they have been held below 10 points. They beat Scotland 13-6 in the third place play-off, but for five of the team it was the end of international rugby.
Lynagh later described the first half as "one of the best 40 minutes I've been involved in with an Australian team". Australia beat England 12-6 in the final and four of them, Eales, Kearns, Horan and Little were still around for their second World Cup triumph in 1999.
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