New Zealand v Australia| Saturday 31 October | Twickenham, London | 18:00
After a month and a half worth of thrilling rugby action that has seen 263 tries, 2351 points scored and 2,341,755 spectators walk through stadium turnstiles around England, we reach the moment everyone has been waiting for, The Final.
The All Blacks and Wallabies have been involved in three World Cup semi-finals but have never come up against each other at this point in the tournament. If this year’s Rugby Championship encounter between the two sides is anything to go by, this game promises to be a classic.
While most South Africans will be bitterly disappointed not to see the Springboks in the final, that pain could be slightly alleviated with a healthy windfall, let’s see if I can get us one.
To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 4/10
New Zealand (-6.5) 9/10
Australia (+6.5) 9/10
To Lift the Cup
New Zealand 7/20
The All Blacks extended their World Cup unbeaten run to thirteen games with their victory over the South Africans last Saturday. Whilst the final score line indicated quite a close-fought affair. This was the case for the first ten or so minutes but after that they never really looked like they would lose. Even when they were down by five points and were playing with one less man, they still looked in complete control. A lot of this was down to Dan Carters performance. The veteran flyhalf controlled the game brilliantly with his boot and while he did miss a penalty, his well-struck drop goal more than made up for that.
While the game was probably the best preparation for a World Cup final, the All Blacks victory could have come at a cost. Mercurial utility back, Nehe Milner-Skudder left the field with a calf strain. While Beauden Barrett looked decent when he came on for his Hurricanes teammate, it must be remembered, that he is a specialist ten who has only filled in on the wing on a handful of occasions.
While Milner-Skudder has been declared fit enough to take to the field on Saturday, he may not be at his mesmeric best due to his injury. The hot-stepper is heavily reliant on his lower extremities, and if that calf is even slightly damaged it may be detrimental to his performance.
With Milner-Skudder fit enough to take the field, Steve Hansen has been able to name an unchanged starting lineup for the final.
They come, they’ve seen, and all the stands in the way of them conquering is a fired up Australian side.
What a difference twelve months makes in rugby. The Australians were coming off the back of a disappointing third place finish in the Rugby Championship that included an away loss to Argentina when Michael Cheika took over as head coach last October.
Cheika’s reign has seen a massive upswing in the Wallabies' fortunes. They have already won the Rugby Championship this year and now have a chance to add the World Cup to their 2015 trophy haul. In order to do so they will have to beat the number one seeded side for the second time in the space of six months.
If the Australians are to achieve the feet, their loose trio will have to dominate the breakdown as they did in the Rugby Championship. While Hooper and Pocock have been absolute menaces at the breakdown, they could never do their jobs without the support of Scott Fardy. The Brumbies flanker has provided a solid ball carrying option for the Wallabies and while he may not be as flash with ball in hand as his two compatriots, he still manages to gain a lot of ground for his side.
While the three loose forward amigos will be the ones laying the platform for victory, Bernard Foley is going to have to be the man who capitalises on their hard work. Foley has distributed the ball brilliantly, but his goal kicking has been well below par. He does have the ability to produce the goods when the pressure is on, however. He illustrated this by kicking a late match-winning penalty against Scotland in the quarter-finals.
For me, the only weak link in this Australian side is Will Guinea. The former Queensland Reds scrumhalf has really struggled for form this year. He will need to have a big game on Saturday as he is coming up against Aaron Smith, who is arguably the best number nine in the business.
Michael Cheika has delayed his team announcement for the showpiece final, but his only real injury concern is Israel Folau. If the Waratahs' fullback is unable to take to the field on Saturday his place is likely to be taken by Kurtley Beale.
The Stats That Matter
The last five games between the sides have seen, New Zealand win three, Australia win one and a draw. The Australians have scored 92 points in these five games while the All Blacks have 160 points to their names. The average total point’s margins in these games has been 50.4. They have already met twice this year in the Rugby Championship decider and the second leg of the Bledisloe Cup. The Australians managed to win the Rugby Championship encounter by 27 points to 19, while the All Blacks got some revenge in the Bledisloe decider, winning the game by 41 points to 13.
In total, the two sides have met on 178 occasions. The All Blacks hold a far superior winning record to their opponents; they have won 123 games while their Tasman rivals have only won 48. The duo have met in three previous World Cup matches. The Australians won two of those encounters (1991 and 2003) while the All blacks claimed victory at the last World Cup. None of these games passed a total points margin of 32 and were won by either 10 or 14 point margins.
The Australians are the only side in World Cup history to never have tasted defeat on British soil, they have won 15 World Cup games on the trot in the United Kingdom. Both sides have won two out of the three World Cup finals they been involved in.
Verdict: Australia 21/10
If their loose trio can dominate the breakdown the Wallabies have a good chance of upsetting the odds.