Where will the Rugby World Cup final be won and lost?

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Bitter rivals: New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand and Australia represent the gold standard for all international teams and, given that four of the seven previous finals have been decided by a score or less, Saturday’s final is likely to be decided by small margins.

– VIDEO: Cheika claims “there’s no secret squirrel”
– VIDEO: McCaw to make decision on future after final
– RWC15: Wallaby prop Sio returns for final

Here, Sport360 analyses the key areas and individual match-ups that will prove critical in establishing who will lift the World Cup.

Up front

From a rainy day quarter-final against Scotland to a punishing semi against scrum-kings Argentina, the Wallaby pack has stood up to the sternest of examinations and have dispelled with aplomb any assertions that they are a soft touch.

Mario Ledesma’s influence has been notable in firming up the Aussie scrum while also making it a new weapon for them.

The All Blacks typically do not use the scrum as an attacking weapon but will feel confident in their ability to win their own put-ins and contain their counterparts.

Sunshine is forecast at Twickenham and with New Zealand’s greater fitness, they should edge this contest in the final 20 minutes.

The breakdown

For the past decade Richie McCaw has been unchallenged as king of the breakdown, but in the last six weeks his crown has been passed to David Pocock.

The Australian flanker has been simply outstanding in the tournament, slowing opposition ball down and forcing turnovers with ease to further stifle attacks.

Body on the line: Pocock.

It is master against teacher, but with Pocock’s trusty side-kick Michael Hooper in tow, the Wallabies are surely favourites to dominate this area once more.

The All Blacks favour a fast-paced game so if Australia are to win, it will start at the tackle-area and their ability to restrict quick ball.

Half-back battle

Australia’s half-backs have picked their game up a notch for the World Cup with Bernard Foley in particular submitting a level of creativity that has seen his critics backtrack somewhat while Will Genia has been assured and his box-kicking, particularly in defensive position, is underrated.

However, in Aaron Smith and Dan Carter, they will be coming up against a superior paring in almost every facet of the game.

Carter has rediscovered his best form in the 10 jersey that had South Africa totally bamboozled with a combination of intelligent kicks, fearless tackling and even a drop-kick.

Smith is showing maturity well beyond his years to manage his team’s attack and keep opposition flankers honest with penetrating snipes.

In midfield

A fascinating duel will see guile of Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani take on a very similar opposition, a more experienced, force of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

While Giteau and Smith have yet to find their best form in the tournament, the veterans have used all of their experience to organise their team’s defence.

Kuridrani’s quarter and semifinal performances were up there with his best, the superlative form of Ma’a Nonu may decide this contest.

Used as a battering-ram in his formative years, the dreadlocked centre has refined his all-round game and poses a far superior threat with his play-making abilities and extra pace on the outside.

Out wide

New Zealand’s Julian Savea announced his return to form with a hat-trick against France. Opposite him Australia winger Drew Mitchell is close behind with 14 tries in World Cup history and has been one of his side’s most potent threats.

Adam Ashley-Cooper has performed admirably in this tournament with a string of vital tackles and tries but with the X-factor of Nehe Milner-Skudder and Israel Folau’s slump in form, New Zealand should have the better of their opponents.

But Milner-Skudder’s poor performance under the high ball against South Africa will have been pickedup by the Wallabies and expect Foley to test him in this area once again.

Tactical and goalkicking

Against South Africa, Aaron Smith, Dan Carter and even Ma’a Nonu put on a tactical-kicking masterclass that both frustrated the Springboks’ rush-defence and proved the All Blacks can adapt to any conditions.

Bernard Foley is first and foremost a kicking fly-half who has the added benefit of a play-making inside centre in Giteau who can also be called upon to relieve pressure.

That said, he has missed key kicks – notably against Scotland – and in their two knock matches Australia have a 62 per cent success rate from the tee, compared to 80 per cent for the All Blacks. A missed penalty or conversion could be the difference.

The two coaches

All Black boss Steve Hansen’s approach is unfussy, simply bringing the best out of an outstanding group of individuals who all leave any egos firmly at the door.

Ego is something Michael Cheika has had to address since taking over a fractured Wallabies dressing room last year. But as well as being a great motivator and unifying presence, Cheika has shown himself to also be a canny tactician.

Cheika’s Pocock and Hooper experiment excelled against New Zealand in Sydney before he decided against fielding them in the Auckland match which the All Blacks won comfortably. Expect him to have a few more tricks up his sleeve. 

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Cheika taking the game back to the Australian masses

Duncan Bech 06:21 31/10/2015
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Michael Cheika has urged Australia to exit their comfort zone and achieve greatness when they face New Zealand.

– VIDEO: Cheika claims “there’s no secret squirrel”
– VIDEO: McCaw to make decision on future after final
– RWC15: Wallaby prop Sio returns for final

The Trans-Tasman rivals clash at Twickenham with the winners being recognised as the competition’s most successful team by lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third time.

The Australian nation have thrown their weight behind the quest for the sport’s richest prize, with the green and gold colours being projected on to the Sydney Opera House accompanied by a call-to-arms of ‘Go Wallabies’.

Cheika insists his underdogs are determined to make the country proud knowing by adding a third World Cup to those won in 1991 and 1999, rugby union would receive a lift in a land where it is fourth in the sporting pecking order.

“We haven’t tried to manufacture anything, we’ve just try to let things happen,” Cheika said. “You feel the support and have to make sure that you use it to push you on from being just comfortable.

“You can think ‘I’m in the final so it’s all good’, or you can go out and do something great. We don’t want to be comfortable.

“As an individual you have to say ‘I’m not happy to be comfortable’. It’s great that you’re enjoying it, but as a player or coach you have to do something.

“One of our goals as a team has been to get our supporters in Australia enjoying the game again. That’s really important to us and that’s genuine, I’m not in the marketing department. We want people to feel attached to the team because we’ve shown them the values they want to be attached to. We want to give them something else to be proud of on Saturday night.”

New Zealand have tasted defeat only three times since being crowned world champions in 2011, most recently when Australia emerged 27-19 victors in Sydney in August.

The Wallabies were humbled 41- 13 in Auckland a fortnight later and Cheika refuses to read anything into previous meetings.

“They say if you look backwards you’ll only get a sore neck. For us it’s there, but it means nothing really. There’s a few tactical things maybe, but it really means nothing,” Cheika said. “It’s about what happens in the next day or so and the 80 minutes in front of us. We want to play to the maximum of our potential and then see where the cards fall.”

Australia have endured a gruelling route to the final, beating tier one sides England, Wales, Scotland and Argentina to set up the winner-takes-all showdown with the All Blacks.

“We know it will be extremely physical and we want to last the whole game. We’ve prepared accordingly,” Cheika said. “When the 80 minutes start, not only will your preparation take a hold but also the reasons that are driving you mentally. That takes over the physical part.”

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All Black hero Dan Carter has one last mission in #RWC2015 final

Andrew Baldock 06:12 31/10/2015
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True great: Dan Carter.

New Zealand rugby superhero Dan Carter could be inspired by an unusual costume collection when he aims to make World Cup history.

– VIDEO: Cheika claims “there’s no secret squirrel”
– VIDEO: McCaw to make decision on future after final
– RWC15: Wallaby prop Sio returns for final

Carter will line up for his 112th and final Test appearance in today’s final before embarking on a lucrative three-year contract with French club Racing 92.

The superstar fly-half features in a first World Cup final at the culmination of what is his fourth tournament, and New Zealand will hope he can deliver another trademark inspired display.

And it has emerged that Carter is an avid collector of superhero costumes, with The Phantom – a fictional crimefighter – being his favourite.

“There haven’t been many additions over the last couple of years,” he said. “My wife made me get rid of them all once our first baby arrived and she realised they were taking up an entire wardrobe.

“She wanted that room as the nursery, so I had to pass them on to a close friend of mine. I know it sounds a bit weird, but Ali Williams (former New Zealand lock) and I, we like to dress up, and so I started a collection of pretty much every superhero costume that there is. I am not sure of the original reasoning behind that, but yeah, I’ve still got a bit of a collection at my mate’s house.”

New Zealand will become the first nation to claim back-to-back world titles if they beat Australia today, and Carter is relishing the challenge that awaits.

“It’s a big occasion and one that this team and myself are pretty excited about, but it’s just a matter of controlling those emotions and not thinking too much about the outcome,” he said.

“It’s not about me, it is not about guys playing their last game, it is about this 2015 All Blacks side that has been working extremely hard all year. My motivating factor is just wanting to go out there and play the best I possibly can for my team-mates.”

Carter was injured during the 2011 pool stages and England 2015 was on his mind when he signed a fresh four-year contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union shortly afterwards.

“In the back of my mind, after 2011, the reason I signed a four-year deal was to give myself another chance of a World Cup,” he said.

“I was looking that far ahead. It was in the back of my mind – to be here. I just wanted to be a part of this side for this World Cup.”

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen paid Carter a glowing tribute, and believes his rugby career has already been defined, whatever happens in a first final between New Zealand and Australia.

Hansen said: “I think a guy who has played over 100 Test matches, like Dan has, his career is not defined by one game. He has already defined his career as one of greatness.

“He has added to the All Black jersey in many, many ways over many, many Test matches. He has enhanced the jersey. When you start out as an All Black, that’s one of the greatest things you can do. If you can say ‘I’ve improved this jersey from when I picked it up’.

“In his position that’s a remarkable thing to be able to do if you think about (Grant) Fox, (Andrew) Mehrtens and so forth. When those guys left, you said you couldn’t replace them, and a little fella from Southbridge has done that.”

Looking ahead to the final, Hansen added: “The pressure will be on both teams, but I don’t think that will inhibit either one of them.

“The Australian team will play to their strengths, and we will play to ours. Given the conditions are okay, I think we will see see some running rugby. Whether that results in a lot of tries depends on how good the defences are.

“We are looking forward to tomorrow immensely. I know, win or lose, we will put in a performance we will be proud of.”

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