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Saturday, 25 November, 2000, 17:23 GMT
Curtain falls on World Cup
England captain Andy Farrell comes under pressure
Andy Farrell comes under pressure against Ireland
Australia's epic win over New Zealand provided a fitting finale to a tournament which failed to capture the public imagination.

It was an epic and bruising encounter, far exceeding anything that had proceeded it.

That's the big disappointment. A competition which had promised so much only came to life right at the death.

England had aspirations of reaching the final but came up woefully short.

Instead it was Wales who emerged full of pride and hope for the future after giving the defending champions a scare in the semi-finals.

Intensity and skill

But no-one could get near the big two, both in terms of intensity and skill.

Ireland confirmed the belief they were one of the tournament's dark horses by topping a hotly contested group four.

Scotland are beaten by Samoa
Scotland are beaten by Samoa
Victories over Samoa, Scotland and New Zealand Maori earned them an eagerly-awaited quarter-final clash with England.

For Scotland, their campaign ended in bitter disappointment when they were beaten by Samoa in front of a crowd of just 1,500 at Tynecastle.

New Zealand and Australia had little trouble progressing to the last eight.

The Kiwis chalked up 206 points in just three group two games, eight more than their fierce Antipodean rivals.

Australia put 110 on the board in just one match, the hopelessly one-sided contest against Russia at the Boulevard in Hull.

Ryan Girdler broke the world individual points-scoring record in that encounter, three tries and 17 goals giving him a tally of 46 points.

Hopes dashed

England's hopes of catching the world champions cold in the opening game in group one were dashed in front of a packed-out Twickenham.

John Kear's side managed a solitary penalty from skipper Andy Farrell as Australia ran out comfortable 22-2 winners.

Group three was won by Papua New Guinea, who were joined in the next round by France.

The pick of the quarter-final games was at Headingley in Leeds.

England's clash against Ireland was always going to be a passionate affair given the make-up of both sides.

This was, in effect, a Super League encounter, pitting club-mate against club-mate.

It lived up to all the pre-match hype, too.

No player shirked a challenge, especially the Irish duo of Terry O'Connor and Barrie McDermott.

England had to come from behind to win, eventually sealing a 22-16 victory.

Less memorable

The other quarter-final games were less memorable.

Australia disposed of Samoa 66-10, New Zealand saw off France 54-6 while Wales recorded a dour 22-8 triumph over Papua New Guinea in front of another dismal crowd at the Auto Quest Stadium in Widnes.

Poor attendances were a depressingly familiar feature of the tournament.

Willie Talau
Talau scores against England
Even the semi-finals failed to witness an improvement.

English hopes were high prior to their clash with New Zealand, although the Kiwis had looked enormously smooth en route to the last four.

When Stephen Kearney crashed through England's defence after just three minutes, it was clear that there would be no upset.

From then on, the result was never in any doubt.

England self-destructed in the face of New Zealand's intense pressure and left the Reebok Stadium in Bolton with their tail firmly between their legs.

Equally one-sided

The experts predicted that the second semi, between Australia and Wales, would be equally one-sided.

But the Welsh stunned the reigning champions and everyone else inside the McAlpine Stadium by storming into a 20-8 lead midway through the first half.

They still led at the start of the second half but finally ran out of steam as the Aussies stepped up a gear.

If there was a game to bring the World Cup to life, that was it.

Trouble is, the tournament was all but over.

Only the final remained - and few would have bet against an Australia-New Zealand affair three weeks ago.

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See also:

19 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
Aussies outlast valiant Wales
18 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
Kiwis sweep England aside
11 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
England storm into last four
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