One Match to rule them all, One Match to find them
One Match to Win it all and in the Light Bind them
Do excuse the play on the famous J.R.R Tolkien Lord of the Rings phrase. And indeed, a Rugby World Cup Final between Australia and New Zealand needs no dramatising. But in all seriousness, this is one of the biggest matches of a generation.
The deepest of foes and the closest of friends, it was only fitting that a tournament, one which has been highlighted particularly for its heart-warming sportsmanship, comes down to a match between two teams with a bond deeper than most countries will ever share.
Despite fears that the Rugby World Cup would be forgotten after the exit of the home nations, the interest has unsurprisingly been kept at a maximum as the results of the tournament took shape to look exactly like the Rugby Championship in the semi finals.
But what’s been is done and what we have ahead of us is a final between the two best teams in the world. And with the type of rugby that both teams are playing, few could think of better match.
Just like with the Bledisloe Cup each year, form means absolutely nothing. In this World Cup Final clash, even if it did, it wouldn’t mean a hell of a lot considering how each team has made it to this stage.
Both teams have won one game against each other (in the 2015 Bledisloe Cup) and both teams have played one great game and one poor game in the quarter finals and the semi finals respectively, the former coming for the All Blacks against France and the latter, their fade-out against the Springboks last weekend.
Compare that with the Wallabies shocker against Scotland and their great game against Argentina and you couldn’t slide an oyster card between them.
If push came to shove, you would have to say the point of difference came in their ability to perform under the harshest of spotlight which came in their quarter final match against Scotland at a humming Twickenham.
By everyone’s standards, despite the amount of tries scored, Australia were largely poor in the execution of the basics and it is this something they’ll have to rectify on Saturday if they’re going to go anywhere near the William Webb Ellis Trophy.
As for the All Blacks, they didn’t play well last week. But one element that they can take a certain degree of comfort in is that it’s rare that they come out and play poorly once, let alone twice.
Where Australia can win it
The breakdown has been killed to death by talk in the media this week about where Australia can win it.
So instead of boring you with the typical Pocock, Hooper, McCaw debate, the difference will be whether Pocock can excel in both no.7 and no.8 roles. We know he is one of, if not the best pilferer in the world but he still isn’t a genuine no.8.
No.8’s pride themselves on aspects like their physicality in the first phase off the ruck but Pocock very much adopts a second no.7 role behind Michael Hooper.
Every team needs a no.8, players like Billy Vunipola and Kieran Read show that. And the position comes with significantly different roles and different responsibilities. Does Pocock have it in him to be better than the world’s best in the no.7 AND no.8 positions?
Where New Zealand can win it
In the discussion that’s dominated the headlines over the past few weeks, the All Blacks’ execution of the basics has been lauded and it’s going to be very important on Saturday.
Quite frankly, the All Blacks substantial winning rate and percentage isn’t by accident and they’ve achieved it by doing the basics and doing them well. If they can do just that in the handling of the ruck, the solidarity in their set piece and their ball handling skills against the Wallabies on Saturday than they will win it.
Realistically, they are the best team in the world playing average (their record and world ranking suggest this) and when they play well, no team can stop them.
Battle to watch
Richie McCaw vs. Michael Hooper
In being one of the youngest players to reach 50 international appearances, Michael Hooper has become one of the best no.7s on the planet. To Australia’s benefit, he was handed a very senior role at a very young age and has perfectly grown alongside that role. But on Saturday, Hooper will come up against the greatest no.7 to play the game (no ifs or maybes) in McCaw and the winner of their battle will go some way to deciding the match.
Both players are great pilferers and despite McCaw slowing up in the past 18 months, the way he leads and commands his team around the park is invaluable. Hooper has been a little bit of a passenger of late (in the semi final and the quarter final) and it’s still yet to be seen whether he can really dominate the breakdown in the absence of David Pocock.
Who will win?
Australia to win by 4 points
Really? A complete stab in the dark but the Wallabies have shown that they can beat the All Blacks. And Michael Cheika’s inexperience in the role means he bares no reservations or ill-thoughts about how to take this New Zealand team on. Expect a Bledisloe-like atmosphere and expect one of the best matches of rugby you’re ever likely to watch.