2015 Rugby World Cup Final: Personal battle to decide Australia v New Zealand
The eyes of the world will be on Twickenham as six weeks of bruising excitement, thrilling play and scintillating tries come to a dramatic conclusion, with a fitting final to decide the world champions.
The difference in time zones means it will be a late night or early start for fans of the respective teams watching at home, with the perennial rivals and neighbors set to face off in the sport’s biggest game for the first time.
These Bledisloe Cup rivals have been arguably the two best teams in the competition in 2015, although the All Blacks will enter the clash as overarching favorites, having been ranked Number 1 in the world for all four years since they won at home in 2011.
Despite the feeling that if Steve Hansen’s men play to their potential they are unplayable - as shown in the quarter-final demolition of their bogey team France - one of the very few nations with the ability to beat the world’s current number one team is Australia. The Wallabies are the only team to have beaten the All Blacks this year.
However, the outcome of the clash between these bitter Antipodean foes could well be decided at the breakdown, with two of the world’s best back-rowers going head-to-head in a highly-anticipated personal battle.
For New Zealand Captain Richie McCaw it will likely be the last time he pulls on the famous black jersey, as the illustrious open-side flanker is expected to retire from international rugby after the tournament’s conclusion.
The no-nonsense star has been the undisputed international king of the breakdown over the course of his career, with the Kiwi loose forward’s ability to win possession at the ruck a key element to the All Blacks’ game plan over the last decade.
McCaw has utilized extreme physicality with a willingness to tiptoe along the letter of the law to make him world rugby’s chief exponent of winning the ball at this vital and regular juncture.
However, in Australia’s David Pocock, a new global chief pilferer of possession has been born in recent years.
The ACT Brumbies back-rower has played the majority of his rugby on the flank throughout his career, but his deployment at Number Eight in this tournament has allowed coach Michael Cheika to play Pocock alongside the explosive Michael Hooper, rather than opt for one over the other.
This combination of two ball-winners has led to Australia’s opposition losing possession and momentum at the ruck on countless occasions, with the Wallabies able to counter-attack and blunt rival attacks in the process.
The standout, though, has been Pocock’s ability to read the game, be the first man to the contact area and stay on his feet while under duress. His battle against McCaw is set to be a mouthwatering one, and he only came on as a substitute the last time the teams met, when the All Blacks trounced Australia in Auckland in August a week after falling short in Sydney.
If the Aussie loose forward can slow down New Zealand’s recycling of the ball at the breakdown and win possession or penalties at ruck time, Cheika’s men will be in with a fighting chance of beating their world-class opponents.
However, if King Richie gets the better of Zimbabwe-born ‘Poey’ at the contact areas and the All Blacks are given quick ball to feed playmaker Daniel Carter and his sublimely gifted back division, the inevitability of New Zealand retaining the William Webb Ellis trophy will almost surely become a reality.