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May 26, 2017

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NZ to face France in World Cup final

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- New Zealand will face France in the final of the Rugby World Cup after beating archrival Australia 20-6 in a semifinal Sunday, drawing a giant step closer to ending a 24-year quest for its second world title.

The All Blacks relieved the anxiety of a nation starved of World Cup success since 1987 by physically dominating Australia from the moment Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper miscued the opening kickoff, establishing commanding advantages of possession and territory.

The New Zealanders achieved a 52-percent share of possession and 64-percent share of territory with ferocious tackling and a firm, physical authority at the breakdown. Armed with those advantages it let loose a backline, managed superbly by rookie flyhalf Aaron Cruden, in which almost every player posed an attacking threat.

When the final whistle blew, a 60,087-strong crowd made up almost entirely of black-clad New Zealanders let loose a deafening cheer of mixed relief and elation.

The key figures for Australia on Sunday, the dangerous but erratic flyhalf Cooper, and the openside flanker David Pocock were outplayed by their opposites and swept along in the tide of a game controlled from its outset by New Zealand. Pocock, alone and frequently penalized, couldn't turn back that tide and nor could the Wallabies pack achieve a firm foothold in the match.

"Credit to the All Blacks, they outplayed us and they deserved to win," Wallabies captain James Horwill said.

Cooper was held in check by a defense which allowed him few chances, except under the most suffocating pressure. Similar pressure subdued Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia.

In contrast, All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden, in only his eighth test and his first in more than a year, played with the composure of a veteran behind a dominant pack. He cleverly marshaled an All Blacks backline in which almost every player represented a clear attacking danger but perhaps the greatest of which were the winger Cory Jane and fullback Israel Dagg.

Dagg created New Zealand's first try for Ma'a Nonu, linking with the center after splitting the Australian defense on a long, angled run in the sixth minute. Weepu kicked two penalties and Cruden a dropped goal as New Zealand took a 14-6 lead to halftime, then added two more penalties for the only points of the second half.

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