PARIS, France — The All Blacks spoke all week about wanting there to be a “tomorrow” after this Rugby World Cup semifinal. They wanted a meaningful final week, and that fuelled this ruthless dismantling of Argentina as New Zealand won 44-6 on a stormy night in Paris.
Any hopes of an Argentinean upset were extinguished by the 17th minute. The All Blacks had their second try and a vice-like grip on the match, the machine clicking with ruthless, familiar efficiency. New Zealand barely broke stride in victory, one which means they’re now in their fifth men’s World Cup final.
There was a sense of inevitability about it all. Those fans clinging on to hopes Argentina could somehow pluck a repeat performance and result like their two historic victories in 2020 and 2022 over the All Blacks were soon brought crashing back to reality.
New Zealand were heavy favourites for this semifinal and vowed all week not to let there be a repeat of 2019, back when England dumped them out of the World Cup at this stage. There were tears that day from the men in black, and the tears flowed again after their monumental quarterfinal win over Ireland in this same stadium last Saturday. But they were ones of relief at having a shot at redemption.
The noise all week from the All Blacks’ camp had been about lessons learnt, but equally, attempting to distance themselves from a redemption narrative and instead anchor it all on opportunity and the future. They talked about wanting there to be a reason to be excited about Monday this time around, rather than the hollowness of a bronze medal match.
And this performance typified that mentality. From loosehead to fullback, their handling was on point, their skillset so slick that they made the technically difficult look simple. When you have Sam Whitelock throwing passes out of the back of the hand, and you have props, locks, back-rows involved in sweeping moves with the same ease and comfort of their outside backs, it must be incredibly difficult to halt that All Blacks wave. And then you factor in Will Jordan, a ruthless finisher, who came away with a hat trick, just the third to achieve such a feat in a men’s semifinal following in Jonah Lomu and Adam Ashley-Cooper’s footsteps.
The All Blacks scored three first-half tries with Jordan opening the scoring. Each were a lesson in patience but also precision and perseverance. The catch-pass execution for their first was remarkable, as they sucked in the Argentinean defence and put Will Jordan over in the corner. For their second, Rieko Ioane made a break through unstructured Pumas’ defence and eventually – with Whitelock at the heart of both tries – it was Jordan who put Jordie Barrett over as he skittled three Argentinean players to dot the ball down. The third – effectively the one which finished this as a contest – was more patient play, a lesson in sucking in defenders and leaving space on the outside as Shannon Frizell had a clear run in.
At this stage the Pumas had battled valiantly – as they always do – but there was no miracle of Marseilles like they plucked against Wales last weekend. This time they couldn’t find the answers. Michael Cheika – the Argentina coach – looked frustrated during the first half, presumably at some calls from Angus Gardner which went against his team, and he patrolled the touchline at half time. But as he saw Frizell dot the ball down, that was enough for him as he headed off down the tunnel.
That 15-minute spell at half time can work wonders for teams, but there was no Argentina resurgence. Aaron Smith kept his foot on Argentina’s throat and he darted over in the 42nd minute, with many in the stadium still making their way back to their seats. From there, there were glimpses of the Argentina side which so many appreciate and hold dear, but this was all New Zealand as Frizell added another.
The Mexican Wave broke out on the 50th minute mark, boos welcoming the end of the cascade, but it was symptomatic of a dispirited atmosphere from the 77653 fans in the stadium. Argentina’s supporters broke out in song sporadically, there was a brilliant rendition of Les Marseilles early on, while the All Blacks fans enjoyed watching the familiar sight of their team ticking the boxes en route to another World Cup final.
Despite the All Blacks emptying the bench, they’d still have time for another two tries with Jordan grabbing both, his third a magnificent effort (and a Scott Barrett yellow card for a deliberate knock-on) as it became a case of load management and testing new combinations for the All Balcks, while maintaining a comprehensive performance from the first minute to the last.
Just over a year ago, the All Blacks had gone on a run of six defeats in eight. Coach Ian Foster’s job was on the line. Heading into this World Cup they suffered a record defeat to South Africa and lost their opener to France. They weren’t being mentioned in some corners in the same breath as France or Ireland when it came to potential World Cup winners. But the beauty – or brutality – of this team is that they know how to peak when it matters. Pre-tournament form be damned, this is about building to a crescendo when the pressure is really on.
For anyone fearing they’d played their World Cup final a couple of games early in their monumental win over Ireland, think again. This was as clinical a performance as you’ll see in a semifinal and New Zealand will fancy their chances of adding a fourth men’s World Cup to their name next weekend. The All Blacks’ dominant win ensured they have a “tomorrow” and a final to prepare for, as if it that was ever in doubt.