NEWS
10/17/2011 02:08 EDT | Updated 12/16/2011 05:12 EST

Teams nursing bruised bodies and egos after weekend of World Cup semifinals

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - The winners and losers of semifinals at the Rugby World Cup focused Monday on new challenges, nursed worn bodies and bruised egos and began to plan new campaigns.

New Zealand did its best to ignore national elation at its 20-6 semifinal win over archrival Australia and began to prepare for Sunday's final against France, its first World Cup final since 1995 and the final stepping stone in a 24-year quest for a second world title.

France, the most surprising of finalists, had a rest day, depriving the tournament of another of the public appearances of coach Marc Lievremont which have been, in some ways, more of a spectacle than their matches.

Wales and Australia attempted to shrug off their disappointment at semifinals losses and claimed to see positives in their meeting Friday in the tournament's playoff for third place.

World No. 1 New Zealand drew confidence from its win over Australia, the world No. 2 and, in most estimations, the greatest obstacle to its bid for its first world title since 1987. The clash of Australia and New Zealand was a colossal match, in many ways a fitting final, but the All Blacks now turn their attention to a match with troublesome France, who have twice beaten them in World Cup knockout games.

"This group (of players) haven't obviously been in a final," New Zealand coach Graham Henry said. "It was a quarterfinal (against France) the last time we played, so it's a new experience for this group.

"We've got to come down (after the win over Australia), get to base again, clean sheet of paper and build again for this test match on Sunday against the French because, although they didn't play particularly well in their semifinal, we know they've got the ability to play outstandingly and they've done that in the past."

After its clash with Australia on Sunday, one that transfixed this nation of 4 1/2 million, there may have been a danger that the match against a misfiring French team would seem anticlimactic. But the All Blacks have too much World Cup history with France to ever treat the unpredictable Frenchmen lightly.

Beaten by France in the semifinals of the 1999 world tournament and, more significantly, in the quarterfinals of the 2007 tournament with Henry as coach, New Zealand has no excuse for complacency.

"The French team, they can be the best in the world on their day," Henry said.

"The All Blacks have had some great test matches against the French during the last eight years, starting with that Paris test in 2004, which was a game that put a lot of these young (New Zealand) guys on the map and a lot of them now have played 70, 80, 100 games for the All Blacks.

"But in 2007, after beating the French by 50 points or thereabouts in a game prior to that, we got beaten in the quarterfinal. That's the reality.

"There's history in All Black-French Rugby World Cup games. Outside of that, apart from a test in Dunedin (won by France last year), I think we've won every game. So we've won every game in France and lost one game at home over the last eight years to the French and lost a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal, the most bizarre game that I've ever been involved in.

"There is a lot of history there, the boys respect the French team, they've got a lot of very talented players and it will be a good final."

Australia's experience on Monday was the opposite of New Zealand's. While the All Blacks tried to avoid a nascent national celebration lest it divert them in the lead-up to the final, Australia found itself in exile in a nation glorying if not gloating in its defeat.

Newspapers, television news bulletins and radio talkback shows overflowed with reaction to the All Blacks victory, with callers who seemed to feel a need to share their relief that New Zealand's long and fruitless search for a second World Cup was a step closer to ending.

Australia had to salve the wounds of defeat, ignore the trumpet calls from the victor's camp and focus on Friday's match against Wales.

"The reality is we've fallen one step short to a very good New Zealand side," captain James Horwill said. But "it's a good thing we're playing so soon.

"You can sit and dwell on these things now. The fact in four days time we get a chance to pull on the jersey and finish off the tournament on a positive note is a thing that's going to drive us. We want to finish this tournament on the right note, and that's by finishing third."

The Wallabies' New Zealand-born coach Robbie Deans said an All Blacks win was now inevitable.

"I can't see anyone stopping the All Blacks now," he said.

"What the All Blacks have is a group who have suffered on many occasions. The core of their group, the nucleus of their group, this is their third attempt and they've got that burning desire, that fire in the belly for that reason. We don't have that as yet, to the same extent.

"There's no coincidence that the first time they won the World Cup it was based in New Zealand," he said. "You've only got to walk the streets to see and feel that. I guess the players are living proof of it."

Wales also looked to Friday's third-fourth playoff as a chance to allay disappointment at its 9-8 semifinal loss to France and to establish itself a rising force in world rugby.

"Obviously the final is the one we all want to be in," assistant coach Neil Jenkins said. But "it's a test match, it's an important test match for us and we have to front up and be ready to go on Friday night.

"It's a big game for us. We want to try to become the third-best side in the world, that's what we'll try to do on Friday night."