Australia captain James Horwill admitted his team had been outplayed by the All Blacks in Sunday’s World Cup semi-final.
In a match where the Wallabies failed to score a try, New Zealand’s relentless pressure and masterly forwards overwhelmed Australia in a brutal 20-6 semi-final win at Eden Park to put them in sight of a first World Cup triumph in 24 years.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Horwill.
“We probably needed to improve on a couple of areas but credit to the All Blacks, they deserved to win.
“Everyone’s pretty disappointed. You can hear a pin drop in the dressing room. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The Wallabies now have to console themselves with a bronze final with Wales on Friday - a repeat of the 1987 third place play-off.
The Australians came off second best in the physical and tactical exchanges in the intimidating atmosphere of the All Blacks’ Eden Park fortress, where the Wallabies haven’t won since 1986.
The Tri-Nations champions were bloodied and beaten in every aspect by a ferocious New Zealand onslaught, that saw the hosts dominate from the opening kick-off and flustering the Wallabies into a multitude of errors.
“It wasn’t a lack of effort from the group - we were beaten fair and square by a better side,” Horwill said.
“I think we learnt from things we didn’t do well. That experience against Ireland, we learnt from that. The disappointment is still pretty raw but the guys never stopped giving and offering themselves up.”
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, a New Zealander who left his homeland to become Australia’s first foreign coach, expects the All Blacks to go on and win the World Cup.
“I think the All Blacks showed tonight that they are more than capable of winning that,” Deans said.
“The intent is there… they’re hungry, they’ll take some stopping from here.”
As for the Wallabies’ performance, Deans said his team had no answer for the All Blacks.
“We changed our approach after half-time but we just weren’t able to generate enough momentum and that inhibited our attack,” he said.
“It was a tough night for all the boys. No-one enjoys coming second, they came here to win and we weren’t successful.”
Dynamic New Zealand ended a tense week of concerns over the fitness of captain Richie McCaw as they proved far too good for the Australians.
“It was awesome,” flanker McCaw said.
“We realised we were going to have to front up and we had to be on the job for 80 minutes.
“Every single man did their best out there,” he added after New Zealand reached their first World Cup final since 1995.
For New Zealand coach Graham Henry the win was especially sweet after he survived calls to be sacked and replaced by Deans, following the All Blacks’ quarter-final defeat by France four years ago.
“They were fabulous, weren’t they?”, Henry said of his side.
“They showed huge character. From minute to minute they gave 100 per cent, they gave everything, they were just outstanding.”
Henry, asked what was behind the victory, replied: “Four years of planning, I suppose. Four years of guys being frustrated and wanting to do the job, four years of trying to get things right.”
The All Blacks will be overwhelming favourites when they return to Eden Park next weekend to play in a rematch of the inaugural 1987 World Cup Final against France, also at Eden Park, which New Zealand won 29-9.
And New Zealand have already beaten France once at this World Cup, winning a pool match 37-17.