New Zealand do battle with their arch enemy Australia, in the culmination of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Both teams have shown signs of brilliance throughout the tournament, but where will this game be won or lost?
New Zealand and Australia are both worthy finalists; they have played some of the best rugby of the entire tournament. New Zealand cruised through their group with ease, obliterated France in the quarters and ground out a result against the Springboks in the semi-final. Whereas Australia were faced with a tougher group, came through it unscathed despite at times not looking exceptional. However when it mattered, the Wallabies turned up and broke many English hearts by eliminating the hosts. It wasn’t till the knockout rounds which we properly saw what the Aussies were made of, putting Scotland to the sword in the quarters and convincingly defeating Argentina in the semis. This has now set up a meeting between the two southern hemisphere sides and a first ever showdown in a rugby world cup final.
The breakdown will most certainly be the defining part of this game. With arguably the two best back rows in international rugby pitted against each other. New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu this week identified the breakdown as the area which will decide the final. He voiced his fear concerning the back row battle, highlighting;
“The difference at the moment is that New Zealand only have Richie McCaw in their back row, while Australia have Hooper and Pocock working together. That gives them a different dimension at the breakdown”.
It is easy to see why Lomu has said this; Pocock has made 14 turnovers on his own already this world cup, which is over double his opposing number Richie McCaw. In addition to turnovers, Australia have made the most tackles in the tournament, with a gargantuan 726 hits being made. An incredible 175 more than the All blacks, New Zealand will have to pull out something special to negate the threat of Pocock and the rest of the Australian pack, if they want to have any chance of coming out victorious in the game.
Despite the Aussies having a phenomenal defence, New Zealand are incredibly dangerous in attack. If New Zealand can secure ball and get it out to the backs, they will more than certainly score tries. The All Blacks possess a formidable back line; in Julian Savea alone they have the top try scorer in the World Cup with 8 tries. His hat-trick against France will go down as one of the greatest moments of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Savea, winger Nehe Milner-Skudder and full back Ben Smith form a truly dangerous trio, and make up 3 of the top 5 players in terms of metres made this tournament. As a threesome, they have made 1285 metres this tournament, and judging from these kind of stats, it’s understandable why New Zealand have scored the most tries this world cup with 36. Not to discredit Australia either, they have scored 26 tries so far, and have an inform Adam Ashley-Cooper on the wing. Who will look to push on from his hat trick against Argentina in the semis, a first in world cup history. As well as Drew Mitchell, who is a deadly finisher on his day and will look to use his experience and get the better of his opposing winger, Milner-Skudder.
The set piece will be a major area where this game can be won or lost. The side who can dominate the scrum and the lineout will ultimately be the victors come Saturday. New Zealand will look to dominate the lineout in the final. They hold a far superior lineout steal average at 2.33 compared to Australia who only average 1.33 steals per match. Number 8 Kieran Read will be a key player for them, who has the most lineout steals this tournament with 6. Brodie Retallick will also play a huge role, looking to show why he is the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year.
Despite holding an impressive lineout unit, Australia in fact have won more lineouts this World Cup than the All blacks. Edging out New Zealand 73 lineout wins to 70 and have thrown straight every lineout this tournament. An impressive stat to boast going into the final. This shows that the aerial dual at the lineout will be a tight one on Saturday and one which could prove crucial to the outcome of the game.
In terms of the scrum, it is another close area in terms of ability. The appointment of Mario Ledesma as scrum coach has done wonders for the Australian pack, their scrum has become a real solid unit, and the return of Scott Sio is a major boost for Australia’s chances in the final. However they face a tough test in the form of the Kiwi pack, who have won 97 scrums this tournament only losing own ball scrums 0.17 times on average per match.
In addition to this pieces of individual brilliance could also turn the game’s head. With the array of talent on display on the Twickenham pitch, this will be more of a certainty than possibility. You wouldn’t bet against Dan Carter stealing the show, and producing a fitting final appearance in an All Black shirt to cap off a tremendous ca
reer. Similarly Australia will look to Matt Giteau to keep discipline in the backs and help combat the multiple attacking threats of the New Zealand arsenal.
The wealth of experience in the All Blacks side could prove pivotal going into the final, and may give the Kiwis the edge, as they have players in the team who have taken part in finals throughout their careers. They know what it takes to win and they can be relied upon to deliver and not let the occasion get the best of them. Legends of the game, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Kevin Mealamu will all bow out after one final game for the All Blacks. With a combined total of 584 caps between them, the Kiwis have proven winners to guide the rest of the team to victory.
History will be made this weekend, when New Zealand and Australia meet in the Rugby World Cup final. New Zealand look to be the first side ever to retain the cup, and Australia seek to spoil the party and look for a repeat performance of the 2015 Rugby Championship victory over the All Blacks in August, when the sides last met. With star-studded talents across the field I’m sure we can expect an exhilarating final. We have seen what both sides are capable of already and hope to see more when both nations collide, to cap off a brilliant Rugby World Cup.
Live Saturday 31st October 2015 on ITV1 and ITV1 HD at 16:00
- images from planetrugby.com, The Guardian, Getty Images.