Six weeks, shedloads of tries, a bonus code and some of the best rugby games the Rugby World Cup has ever seen and it all comes down to this. There is genuine hope that the final can, for once, live up to expectation instead of being the usual turgid offering. Expectation is high as these are the best two teams in the tournament both of whom play a brand of rugby fans wish to see and the weather is apparently now set fair . However, there is the a chance that the blue skies could see the clouds of the one blight of the tournament, overuse of the TMO, hone into view leading to us wanting to scrape a rosebush across our eyeballs in frustration.
Both squads field the strongest line-up from their available squad, with Folau starting again for the Wallabies despite concerns over his fitness and the good form of Kurtley Beale. It seems Cheika, like the rest of us, remains of the view that his class will shine through eventually and given his big game temperament this could be the very time it comes out to play. Scott Sio is back in the scrum to add his considerable weight and ability to an already impressive eight for Australia. This blog still finds it very difficult to accept that we now write such things about the green & gold scrum without it being sarcastic, but the fact remains they will have the nudge at set-piece and in a tight scoreboard game that could be enough. But, there remains a question mark over the Australia lineout, and if any pair of players can expose this it’s Retallick & Whitelock. This blog still believes that Douglas and Simmons looking like international players is an elaborate David Blaine illusion which must end at some point.
Can New Zealand stop Pocock? The Aussie flanker has been the nearest thing rugby has ever had to Argentina’s 1986 Diego Maradona; a player who is so instrumental to a World Cup performance they will lose without him. In 1986 people tried to hack Maradona out of games. It didn’t work. Assuming the Kiwis won’t do that they will have to focus on not getting isolated and clearing out low and hard. The worry for them is their back-row, impressive as it is, lacks the balance of the Wallabies. But they do have McCaw, who has found a way to be the best against all comers for a decade and a half. He will not fancy his epitaph being that he was schooled by an upstart on the highest stage and he will
cheat use all his nous to prevent it.
Much is made of the experience that New Zealand can call on, with their 1000 gajiillion caps. Where this will stand them in particularly good stead is, unlike previous All Black teams, they have the specific experience of actually winning a Rugby World Cup. This could be the factor that prevents them falling flat on their face at crucial point (again).
New Zealand have not faced an attack like Australia’s and the Wallabies have not faced a defence like New Zealand’s and the bench could decide it. The game will be close and Mealamu, SBW and Kerr-Barlow could be the types of player to give that extra edge in the last 30 as the Aussie defence tires. Given the work it has done so far it has to tire eventually, and the All Blacks will ask more questions than Wales or Argentina did.
If you want more chat about the final, have a listen to our latest podcast
B&M Prediction: New Zealand by 7
Spotter’s Badge: Beauden Barrett is put in five different positions during the match, none of which are his own
New Zealand: Ben Smith; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams.
Australia: Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Scott Sio, Stephen Moore (captain), Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, David Pocock.
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.