TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom (AFP) - Here is a look at five key head-to-head contests that could decide the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
Julian Savea (NZL) v Adam Ashley-Cooper (AUS)
Powerhouse wing Savea is on eight tries at this World Cup just one away from the record at a single tournament. Possessed of both immense strength and sheer pace, the 25-year-old can be deployed as a "battering ram" when coming inside but is perhaps at his best when given the ball in space and taking on defenders one-on-one. The experienced Ashley-Cooper may not create quite the same sense of excitement when he receives the ball but he gets through more than his fair share of work in defence and still knows the way to the try-line, a he showed with his semi-final hat-trick against Argentina. He has four tries in the tournament.
Ma'a Nonu (NZL) v Matt Giteau (AUS)
Two hugely experienced midfielders whose contrasting styles at inside centre have an important part to play in the strategy and tactics of their respective teams. The powerful Nonu, a ball-carrier who looks to break through the opposition back-line, is set to target the midfield channel being defended by Giteau and Bernard Foley on Saturday. By contrast Giteau is a more of a distributor, whose kicking out of hand means he acts as a second playmaker to fly-half Foley.
Dan Carter (NZL) v Bernard Foley (AUS)
All Blacks great Carter, Test rugby's all-time leading points scorer, is in his last chance to get a World Cup winners' medal. Injury kept him out of New Zealand's victorious team four years ago and he retires from Tests after the final. To those who thought the 33-year-old is past his best, all of his skills were on display during New Zealand's hard-fought 20-18 semi-final win over South Africa where a well-taken drop-goal allied to brilliant tactical kicking kept the All Blacks on the front foot. Rival fly-half Foley lived up to his "Iceman" nickname with a match-clinching penalty against Scotland but has also shown he can play an all-round running game as was proved with two well-taken tries in the Wallabies' Pool A win over England.
Kieran Read (NZL) v David Pocock (AUS)
When breakdown specialist Pocock missed the quarter-final win over Scotland through injury, it almost cost Australia the game with the Wallabies needing a last-gasp penalty for a 35-34 victory. The No. 8's ability to force turnovers, and do so quickly, is exceptional. He, as much as anyone, will be central to Australia's chances on Saturday. Read is one of the best ball-playing No. 8s in the game, with handling skills that would shame many a Test back. But this World Cup has seen him carrying the ball closer to the breakdown given the All Blacks have so much strength out wide.
Richie McCaw (NZL) v Michael Hooper (AUS)
All Blacks captain McCaw is one of the greatest players the game has know, let alone one of the outstanding back-row forwards of all time. Brave, committed and highly skilled, he is equally renowned for his ability to both influence referees and avoid detection for offences that cause lesser players to concede penalties. But in the dynamic Hooper, Australia have a top-class openside of their own with a sharp turn of pace as well as strength in the contact area.