Australian Kangaroos v New Zealand Kiwis, Michael Maguire responds

New Zealand coach Michael Maguire says he’s “absolutely gutted” after the Kiwis’ defeat to Australia but insists the gap between the two heavyweights has “closed immensely”.

Maguire fought off tears as he fielded questions following the Kiwis’ 16-14 semi-final loss to the Kangaroos at Leeds’ Elland Road on Saturday morning (AEDT).

The former Wests Tigers and Rabbitohs mentor was left to rue a pair of denied Peta Hiku tries, as well as terrible lapses in defence from Brandon Smith and Nelson Asofa-Solomona, which resulted in a Cameron Murray four-pointer.

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The first Hiku try was rejected because Jordan Rapana was deemed to have been off side when Jahrome Hughes kicked the ball, while the second was turned down because the centre planted the footy on the touch in-goal line.

“There is a fair bit of emotion at the moment,” Maguire said as he stewed on the result.

“Moments in games — they win you Test matches. Unfortunately we just didn’t capitalise on a couple of them there where we actually had it. We just couldn’t manage it.

“I’ve got so much belief in our players.

“We had it in either of the corners. It could have been. But unfortunately for us tonight it just wasn’t to be.”

Australia is now just 80 minutes away from securing its third World Cup title in succession, following its 2013 and 2017 triumphs.

The final will see the Kangaroos meet the winner of England and Samoa, who are set to collide in the second semi-final at The Emirates Stadium in London from 1.30am on Sunday (AEDT).

“One thing that I do know that the boys have done (is) they’ve closed the gap. They’ve closed the gap between where we’ve been and where we are as a group now,” Maguire said.

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“It could have gone our way but unfortunately just the bounce of the ball there (didn’t go our way). Right in that corner, right there, it was there.

“So the gap between the teams, I believe, has closed immensely, and we’ve just got to keep pushing forward and close it even more.”

Maguire’s men took a 14-10 buffer into half-time but surrendered their lead when Nathan Cleary converted the soft Murray try.

In their final attacking play, Hughes put up a kick from left to right in the 80th minute, but Latrell Mitchell defused it.

“I’m really proud of my players,” Maguire said.

“It’s gutting. I’m just absolutely gutted for my players because (of) the amount of work they’ve been doing for a long period of time. They’ve been so devoted … to able to change the jersey to a better place — I believe they have done that.

“We didn’t get the result that we would have liked, but … they’re getting better, the boys.

“One thing about a lot of the boys: they’re actually the best players within their clubs and the more they get of that and the more big games like this we play, the experience comes and the bounce of that ball will go our way.”

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