Rugby World Cup: A first final between giants

The New Zealand (top) and All Blacks rugby team flag are hoisted in front of the New Zealand Rugby Union building in Wellington on Oct 29, 2015.
The New Zealand (top) and All Blacks rugby team flag are hoisted in front of the New Zealand Rugby Union building in Wellington on Oct 29, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Victory will see either All Blacks or Wallabies become first team to win tourney three times

TWICKENHAM (England) • Richie McCaw will lead New Zealand's charge for a place among rugby's all-time greats today when they battle Australia in the World Cup final.

A convincing win over Michael Cheika's reborn Wallabies to become the first country to win two straight world titles -and three in all - could see the All Blacks acclaimed as the best of all time.

New Zealand's two World Cups were on home soil in 1987 and 2011.

Australia have enjoyed playing in Britain, winning in 1991 at Twickenham and in 1999 in Cardiff.

Another titanic battle is guaranteed at Twickenham again, with the 80,000-plus crowd set to witness the first final between two sides who have dominated rugby's showpiece since it started in 1987.

At least one of them have been in every final, except 2007.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is banking on the experience of McCaw, fly-half great Dan Carter and their fellow Test centurion Ma'a Nonu. McCaw is at his fourth World Cup and led New Zealand to their narrow 8-7 win over France in the 2011 final.

"He's probably the greatest player we've had play the game, certainly from New Zealand anyway," Hansen said.

The Twickenham showdown has been billed as the battle of the breakdown, with McCaw leading the All Black marauders against Australia's jackals David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

Cheika has played up the underdogs tag. But he has aces up his sleeve with Pocock a hot contender for player of the tournament.

A running game is in the offing from two of the world's best attacking sides who know each other well.

Said Cheika: "We want to be proud of what we do on Saturday and make Australians even more proud of us, by giving everything we've got."

If the breakdown is going to be decisive, it is on the wings where the action will be.

All Blacks left wing Julian Savea is the leading try-scorer in the tournament with eight, needing one more to set a World Cup record. Adam Ashley-Cooper, tasked with stopping the giant New Zealander, scored a hat-trick in the Wallabies semi-final win over Argentina.

Wallabies left wing Drew Mitchell needs one more try to equal the World Cup total record of 15 held by former All Black Jonah Lomu and South Africa's Bryan Habana. Mitchell marks Nehe Milner-Skudder, a first-year All Black who is one of three finalists for the "breakthrough player of the year" award.

Rounding of the back three for the Kiwis is Ben Smith, safe under the high ball as the Wallabies well know. Australia have the counter-attacking skills of Israel Folau.

In midfield, the All Blacks have the most experienced centre combination in Test rugby, Nonu and Conrad Smith, against the dangerous Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani.

All Blacks halves Carter and Aaron Smith are against Will Genia and Bernard Foley.

Foley is not sound defensively but will have Scott Fardy close by.

With such talent in the backs, it makes winning the breakdown so much more vital for whoever comes off second-best will be doing a lot of scrambling.

Australia have been strengthened in the scrum by the return of prop Scott Sio but may have trouble in the lineout, where Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick are two of the best thieves in the business.

There is a need to settle the score this year where they have one win each, and the need to see which side will be the first to win a third World Cup.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'A FIRST FINAL BETWEEN GIANTS'. Print Edition | Subscribe