New Zealand and Australia will renew their fierce antipodean rivalry in the Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham next weekend, after defeating tough opposition in their respective semi-finals. The All Blacks endured a nervous finale against a resolute South African side before edging the result 20-18, maintaining the possibility of becoming the first nation to retain the famous trophy. Australia were the dominant team in their last-four clash as Adam Ashley-Cooper ran in a hat-trick of tries to ensure a 29-15 victory over Argentina.

New Zealand 20 -18 South Africa (half-time 7 - 12)

The reigning champions were made to work hard against a resilient and determined South African XV at the home of English rugby, before their place in the final could be confirmed.

New Zealand were predominantly on the front foot in the first-half but trailed to the Springboks at half-time due to their mainly solid defence. The accurate penalty kicking of Handre Pollard gave them an encouraging 12-7 advantage at the break, penalizing the opposition’s misdemeanours. Flanker Jerome Kaino proved to be both saint and sinner for the New Zealanders, scoring an early try in the corner before being sin-binned as the half came to a close.

South Africa’s Bryan Habana also suffered the ignominy of being yellow carded during the second-half as the Kiwis battled back into the contest. Their ability to score points in adversity was epitomized by Dan Carter’s clever drop goal while they were still a man light.

That score reduced their arrears to 12-10 after 45 minutes and when Kaino returned to the field they piled on the pressure. After a near miss by Julian Savea down the left wing, substitute Beauden Barrett made no mistake and raced in for a try. Habana’s yellow card at the same time saw the Boks in deep trouble, trailing 17-12 as Carter successfully converted.

Both sides exchanged penalties to leave the score close at 20-15 with just a quarter of the game remaining. The nerves began to heighten for both nations’ fans after replacement kicker Pat Lamrie slotted home a penalty, leaving the South Africans trailing by just two points as they entered the final 10 minutes.

Sadly for the Boks it was not to be, as they found themselves deep in their own half as the clock ran down.

One last desperate attack from close to their own goal line resulted in a fumble and the All Blacks were through to the Twickenham showpiece.

Australia 29 – 15 Argentina (half-time 19-9)

The Wallabies retained an element of control of their own destiny throughout their last-four battle, scoring after just two minutes as Rob Simmons gratefully intercepted a wayward Argentinian pass to score under the posts.

Nicolas Sanchez opened the South Americans’ account with a penalty, but Ashley-Cooper found himself in acres of space out wide shortly after to bag a second try for the Aussies. The conversion extended the former champions’ lead to 14-3.

Urged on by Diego Maradona’s lively support, his compatriots had Sanchez to thank for another two penalties before the end of the half.

However, those successful kicks sandwiched yet another Ashley-Cooper try in the corner, after Tomas Lavanini had gone to the bin for ten minutes. He was somewhat harshly adjudged to have not used his arms when tackling Israel Folau.

Argentina rallied after the interval and enjoyed moments of success in the scrums. Further penalties for both sides left the game tantalizing poised at 22-15 as it entered the final stages.

A moment of individual magic from Drew Mitchell finally extinguished the Argentinian spirit. After bursting down the left wing, mesmerizing footwork took him across field past several desperate would-be tacklers. A floated pass out wide bobbled across the pitch (with a hint of a forward pass to boot), before Ashley-Cooper managed to collect and complete his hat-trick of tries.

With that score the Argentinian journeywas over, leaving the Aussies as the only nation that can now deny New Zealand’s dream in the final.