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Wallabies come of age to reach semi-finals
By Darren Walton
21:42 AEST Sun Oct 9 2011

Robbie Deans believes his young Wallabies have finally "come of age" to book a Rugby World Cup semi-final blockbuster with the All Blacks.

Deans hailed his Gen-Y Australians' incredible courage under fire in Sunday's tension-filled 11-9 quarter-final triumph over the defending champion Springboks in Wellington.

Match stats: Australia v South Africa
In pics: Australia beat South Africa

Despite enduring four times more defensive work than South Africa, the Wallabies somehow conjured victory through a late penalty goal to ice-cool winger James O'Connor.

"What you saw was the most experienced World Cup side in the world really turn the screws on the youngest," Deans said.

"So the boys came of age as far as they accepted that challenge and stood up to it.

"It was an epic World Cup encounter."

While no player was more heroic than champion Australian flanker David Pocock, 21-year-old O'Connor's nerve to boot the Wallabies into the last four with a 72nd-minute penalty from 34 metres out typified the side's newfound composure on the biggest stage.

"The encouraging thing about that was that he wanted that - he was looking forward to that opportunity to kick that goal," Deans said.

"It's a great sign and it's a great trait in a competitor."

O'Connor is renowned for his exciting attack, but Deans was delighted that Australia's youngest player showed maturity beyond his years.

"He showed a lot of courage defensively in his tackling. He also showed a lot of courage in the air," Deans said.

"No doubt a lot of South Africa's approach was targeted at him and he not only stood up to it, but I guess he also had the last say."

New Zealand confirmed their semi-final appointment with a comfortable 33-10 win over Argentina in Auckland in Sunday's last quarter-final.

The All Blacks will enter the mouth-watering trans-Tasman showdown warm favourites to extend Australia's 25-year hoodoo at Eden Park, but midfielder Berrick Barnes said Sunday's Houdini act at the Cake Tin had galvanised the Wallabies.

Barnes also heaped the pressure on Australia's fierce foes, reminding New Zealanders that the All Blacks had never beaten the Wallabies at a World Cup.

The Wallabies ambushed New Zealand in semi-finals in 1991 and 2003 in the two southern hemisphere giants' only two previous meetings at the global showpiece.

"They're worried about us come World Cup time too," Barnes said.

"There's Aussie hoodoos left, right and centre here and 80 minutes at Eden Park come next Sunday.

"So that will tell us won't it."

The high-stakes encounter between Australia's Tri Nations champions and the world's top-ranked line-up will also carry the added edge of New Zealander Deans sitting in the Wallabies' coaching box after being controversially overlooked for the All Blacks' top job in 2007.

Deans was assistant coach of New Zealand when the Wallabies upset the Blacks eight years ago in Sydney and said he couldn't wait for the next chapter in the two sides' World Cup history.

"World Cup semi-finals - nothing better," he said. "There will be a lot of emotion running, don't worry about that."

Wales and France will square off in the first semi-final in Auckland on Saturday and Deans believed anyone could win the tournament.

"I've got no doubt that the next couple of weeks will be the best World Cup Rugby that we've ever seen," he said.

"The bar just keeps going up in terms of the capability of the sides."

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Special feature: All the colour from New Zealand
Photos: All Blacks world championsNew Zealand have fought off a brave French team to win the Rugby World Cup again after 24 long years.