By Lobsang DS Subirana
Sports Desk, Oct. 20 (EFE).- In the dying minutes of the Rugby World Cup semi-final, New Zealand star fly-half Richie Mo’unga failed to put his teammate through for a surefire try that would have made history.
Winger Will Jordan waited patiently for a ball that never came, and instead, Argentina secured a turnover that led them to a late rampage up the field at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
Gasps rang throughout the stadium and play continued for a few more passages until Australian referee Angus Gardner ended the match. In the end, the moment was meaningless at best.
It could have gone differently – had it not been for the previous 80 minutes of utter domination by an All Blacks side that humbled their opponents, from the moment they laid down their cultural Haka challenge until it went unanswered come the final whistle.
New Zealand scored seven tries Friday night in Paris to beat Los Pumas 6-44 and book their place in next week’s final, where they will vie for a record-breaking fourth Webb Ellis Cup following a stellar performance against a noticeably inferior opponent.
“It’s so sweet,” All Blacks inside center Jordie Barrett said as he collected his Player of the Match award moments after the game ended. “It’s new territory for this group, we slipped at the semifinal hurdle four years ago; so, I’m just so proud of this group.”
It was Argentina that began promisingly, with a 14-phase attack from which they drew a penalty to the right of the posts that talismanic kicker Emiliano Boffelli used to score three points.
There were questions over how taxing Saturday’s grueling win over Ireland would have affected coach Ian Foster’s side physically, but the All Blacks quickly dispelled doubts and gave a glimpse of their approach to the game. They established themselves at the breakdown and drew a penalty for holding on – one of several they’d obtain throughout a commanding first half.
Los Pumas paid for their initial disciplinary infringements and a kick to the corner resulted in a maul that New Zealand used to fling wide to Jordan, who tied France’s winger Damian Penaud as the competition’s top try scorer with an easy touch town on the far right side.
It only took five minutes for the feat to be repeated, as outside back Mark Tele’a – back in the lineup after an internal suspension for misconduct – produced a turnover from which the All Blacks ran amok. The ball found outside center Rieko Ioane, who beat a slew of defenders to carve open Argentina’s defense.
The New Zealand pressure was relentless and gave no time to realign for Los Pumas, who soon saw how center Barrett scored in the same corner as Jordan following a few phases of broken play.
The All Blacks’ attack advanced at a frenetic pace, running the length of the field in only a handful of seconds and phases. In contrast, Argentina’s offense looked slow and uninspired, as the side coached by Australia’s Michael Cheika had lost the ball or gave away breakdown penalties in four of their five 22-meter line entries.
It was telling from New Zealand, whose handling error just inside the 30-minute mark was their first knock-on in almost two hours of rugby – since they played their last Pool A game against Uruguay over a fortnight ago.
It didn’t matter that Argentine second-row Marcos Kremer drew a penalty in front of the posts for Boffelli to convert – with Los Pumas displaying just mooted sputters of their true ability after another string of elaborate phases – as Mo’unga responded in kind with a retort of his own.
It was almost game over when New Zealand blindside flanker Shannon Frizell strolled in at the far left for his first of two tries with the clock in red after a break through the middle from Tele’a to make it 6-20 – and it definitely was in the first play of the second half.
Argentina knocked on the restart and were dominated at the resulting scrum, which wheeled wildly and produced a gap for scrum-half Aaron Smith, who slithered through to extend an unassailable lead for the All Blacks and opened the try floodgates thereon.
Frizell got his second after a line break from Mo’unga and Jordan – who secured a hat-trick of tries – was prevented from equaling New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu’s record by the fly-half when he took a ball into contact while the winger was unmarked just meters from the line.
But he did equal Lomu and other illustrious rugby royalty such as Julian Savea and Bryan Habana with his eighth score of the competition.
Jordan will look to overtake them all next weekend as the All Blacks take to the field for their third final in the last four editions, having improved exponentially throughout the competition and peaked at the right time for a chance at making history in Paris.