Beware the All Blacks!
It took just 49 minutes on Friday night for the Kiwis to underline their dominance and tell the Springboks and England that it will take a special effort to stop them from winning their fourth Rugby World Cup title.
New Zealand produced an emphatic performance to dot down their fifth try with more than half-an-hour left in their 44-6 semi-final victory over a hapless Argentina at the Stade de France to advance to next Saturday’s final at the same venue.
They will face either South Africa or the English, who square off in Paris on Saturday night in the semi-final (9pm kickoff).
After both SA and England came through titanic quarter-finals against France and Fiji respectively last weekend – and they will be sure to climb into each other in Saturday night’s showdown – it will take something special to beat a New Zealand outfit that ripped Los Pumas apart on Friday night.
That wasn’t down to a lack of application from the South Americans, though. In fact, Argentina enjoyed the better start at a strangely reserved Stade de France as they worked their way into the New Zealand 22 on a few occasions, and they were rewarded with an early penalty by Emiliano Boffelli.
But they were unable to convert those attacking opportunities into tries, which cost them dearly.
The All Blacks managed to create turnovers at crucial times, and once they found their rhythm with ball-in-hand, they were hard to contain.
With master flyhalf Richie Mo’unga conducting the Kiwi orchestra with his magical wand, Ian Foster’s team began to blunt Argentina’s spirited forwards via a smoothly-working lineout and combative driving maul before unleashing their red-hot backline.
Star wing Will Jordan opened the All Blacks’ tally in the 11th minute as he dived over untouched after the pack did the hard yards off a lineout drive.
Then came arguably the try of the night as Argentina once again coughed up possession around the New Zealand 22, which saw outside centre Rieko Ioane bursting up the middle before a sweeping move ended with inside centre Jordie Barrett rounding off on the right.
Boffelli kept his team in the game with a second three-pointer just before halftime, but that is when the All Blacks again put their foot down.
First Mo’unga slotted a penalty, and then they launched another flowing move where wing Mark Tele’a again displayed his renowned elusiveness up the middle, and powerful flank Shannon Frizell trotted over on the right.
It was a long road back for Argentina from 20-6 down at halftime, but coach Michael Cheika would have hoped that his marauding band of warriors would be able to show some fight in the second half.
But this All Black team have been improving steadily since their opening World Cup defeat to France, and are now firing on all cylinders.
They came up with a trademark touchdown after halftime, with classy scrumhalf Aaron Smith darting through the defence from a scrum on the 22.
The All Blacks flexed their muscles once more to end the match as a contest in the 49th minute as they took the ball through 18 thrilling phases, with Frizell grabbing his second five-pointer.
Foster had the luxury to make a whole host of changes to rest his starters for the final, but that didn’t halt the New Zealand train as Jordan went over for his second try on the left-hand side, and completed his hat-trick in the closing stages.
A late yellow card to lock Scott Barrett was the only real aberration on the night for Sam Cane’s composed team, who will feel confident of making history by becoming the first side to claim the Webb Ellis Cup for the fourth time next weekend.
All Blacks 44 – Tries: Will Jordan (3), Jordie Barrett, Shannon Frizell (2), Aaron Smith. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (3). Penalty: Mo’unga (1).
Argentina 6 – Penalties: Emiliano Boffelli (2).