It’s the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and it could not be set up any better. The top two sides in the world – New Zealand and Australia – go head-to-head in the summit clash on Saturday. Here’s a look ahead to what promises to be a scintillating final between two sides who have appeared a cut above the rest at this tournament, remaining unbeaten so far.
Venue & Kick-Off
The venue for the final match of the 2015 RWC edition is rugby’s HQ at Twickenham.The match will kick off at 20:30 hours IST and you can watch it on Sony Six.
New Zealand are the defending champions and have once again made it to the final clash in an attempt to become the first side in the history of the sport to retain the trophy. The current All Blacks team is considered to be even better than the one that lifted the trophy four years ago at home in New Zealand and with good measure.
Steve Hansen, who was assistant to Graham Henry in the 2011 triumph, has made the All Blacks an even more dangerous proposition as evidenced by the fact that they have suffered only three losses between the two world cups.
They will be up against history though as both their previous triumphs came on home soil. So they will have to show that they can win away from home if indeed Richie McCaw and the All Blacks hope to become the first side to win back-to-back cups. Two previous champions have come equally close, Australia in 2003 and England in 2007, making the final, but losing out to their opponents on the day, England and South Africa respectively. New Zealand are looking to win their third world cup and become the first nation to do so.
In this tournament, New Zealand made a rather unimpressive start to things, looking very scratchy in the pool phase, before exploding to life against France as they ripped them apart, scoring over 60 points in their quarterfinal game. They faced up against their old enemy, the Springboks, in the semis and in a game of their attack versus the Springbok defence, they prevailed in a tense affair by a two-point margin to book their place in the final. Flanker Jerome Kaino and full-back Beauden
Barrett were the two try-scorers in their 20-18 win with Dan Carter adding the remaining 10 points from his boot.
Australia, like New Zealand, also have two world cups to their name and are fighting to become the first nation to three triumphs. The stars seem to be aligning for the Wallabies who are vying for a third crown here in England, with both their previous victories, in 1991 and 1999 have come when the tournament has been hosted by England. So they will be confident of victory come Saturday.
However, it isn’t just the fact that both their previous successes have come on English soil, they also have been on quite the roll since Michael Cheika took over as coach late last year. They won the Rugby Championship for the first time in nearly five years in what was a shortened tournament due to the world cup. They in fact beat the All Blacks in that tournament to claim victory.
Australia were in Pool A, dubbed the ‘Pool of Death’ due to Wales and England also being there. The Wallabies though were too strong for them and comfortably put aside the challenge of those two nations, inflicting a crushing defeat on England even to unceremoniously dump them out of the tournament.
They survived a close shave in the quarterfinal as Bernard Foley’s last-gasp penalty kick meant they edged out Scotland by a solitary point, winning 35-34 to sneak into the final four. In the semis though, they showed their class as they took advantage of Argentina’s open-minded approach with
Adam Ashley Cooper starring for the Wallabies with a hat-trick and the flanker combination of David Pocock and Michael Hooper dominating the rucks and breakdowns.
The All Blacks and the Wallabies have played each other twice this year. The first was in the Rugby Championship where Australia won, 27-19, in Sydney to dethrone their neighbours. The second part of their annual Bledisloe Cup tussle was played out as pre-RWC standalone test in Auckland which New Zealand won comfortably, 41-13. Australia did rest a lot of key players for that match though.
Overall, in world cups, Australia have the edge 2-1 over the All Blacks, having beaten them in both 1991 and 2003 in the semis, en route to the final. New Zealand’s only win came at the 2011 edition when they beat Australia in the semis at home.
Coach Steve Hansen has named an unchanged 23 from the semi-final to face Australia in the final.Coincidentally, the last time the All Blacks named an unchanged line-up between successive RWC matches was in 2011, when they made no changes for the final against France after the semi-final win over Australia.
13 of the current 31-man squad were a part of that title winning side. McCaw, Carter, Kieran Read, Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Victor Vito, Owen Franks, Ben Franks and Colin Slade will all be looking to capture their second cup.
1. Joe Moody; 2. Dane Coles; 3. Owen Franks; 4. Brodie Retallick; 5. Sam Whitelock; 6. Jerome Kaino; 7. Richie McCaw (captain); 8. Kieran Read; 9. Aaron Smith; 10. Daniel Carter; 11. Julian Savea; 12. Ma'a Nonu; 13. Conrad Smith; 14. Nehe Milner-Skudder; 15. Ben Smith.
Replacements: 16. Keven Mealamu; 17. Ben Franks; 18. Charlie Faumuina; 19. Victor Vito; 20. Sam Cane; 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow; 22. Beauden Barrett; 23. Sonny Bill Williams.
Coach Michael Cheika has made one change to the team that played Argentina. Scott Sio comes into play at loosehead prop at the expense of James Slipper who goes to the bench.
Sio had been injured and his return provides a real boost for the Aussies in the front row as he will look to combine with captain and hooker Stephen Moore and Sekope Kepu to give the Wallabies the thrust at the scrums.
Michael Hooper and David Pocock will no doubt hog the limelight as their third row combination with Scott Fardy has decimated breakdowns at the world cup so far.
1. Scott Sio; 2. Stephen Moore (captain); 3. Sekope Kepu; 4. Kane Douglas; 5. Rob Simmons; 6. Scott Fardy; 7. Michael Hooper; 8. David Pocock; 9. Will Genia; 10. Bernard Foley; 11. Drew Mitchell; 12. Matt Giteau; 13. Tevita Kuridrani; 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper; 15. Israel Folau.
Replacements: 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau; 17. James Slipper; 18. Greg Holmes; 19. Dean Mumm; 20. Ben McCalman; 21. Nick Phipps; 22. Matt Toomua; 23. Kurtley Beale
- Matt Giteau, who starts at inside-centre, is the only Australian in the side to have played in a world cup final before as he featured against England in 2003, when he came on as a replacement.
- Australia’s Bernard Foley was fourth in points at RWC 2015 on 75 points after the semi-finals, behind only Argentina's Nicolás Sánchez (89), Scotland's Greig Laidlaw (79) and South Africa's Handré Pollard (79).
- Australia’s Drew Mitchell has scored 14 career World Cup tries; only Jonah Lomu of New Zealand and Bryan Habana of South Africa have recorded more, with 15.
- Adam Ashley-Cooper will face the All Blacks for the 29th time in his test career. This equals the all-time record held by David Campese. He already holds the record for most test tries scored against the All Blacks with nine.
- Only six players have been part of two World Cup-winning campaigns: Australia's Phil Kearns, Jason Little, Tim Horan, Dan Crowley and John Eales and South Africa's Os du Randt.
- New Zealand’s Richie McCaw extends a World Cup record in captaining his side for the 13th time in the competition. He also extends the world record for test appearances to 148.
- Also, with his 22nd appearance in a World Cup match, McCaw equals the competition record held by England's Jason Leonard.
- New Zealand’s Julian Savea is the leading try scorer at Rugby World Cup 2015 with eight. He jointly holds the record for tries in a single World Cup, a mark established by Jonah Lomu (1999) and Bryan Habana (2007).
- New Zealand’s Keven Mealamu has been on the winning side in each of his past 15 RWC appearances, a record streak for the competition.
- Six members of this All Blacks squad have made more than 10 RWC appearances and been on the winning side in all of them: Nonu (14), C Smith (14), Whitelock (13), Kaino (13), Williams (13) and O Franks (12).