Putting aside the pro-England bias for a minute, it is perhaps the Rugby World Cup final that we all wanted to see: the Oceania derby between New Zealand, the World Cup defending champions ranked number one in the world, and Australia; the Rugby Championship winners ranked second in the world.
Twickenham is all set for a colossal battle on Saturday afternoon (4pm kick off), so who looks set to come out on top?
There is no doubt that New Zealand’s backs are the most explosive in the game at the moment – as Julian Savea’s eight tries testifies – but against South Africa they adopted a strange kicking game that was not befitting of their obvious strengths. If Dan Carters insists on wasting possession by kicking more often than not, and the Aussie backs tackle as feverishly as the South Africans did, then they can nullify that threat.
In David Pocock, the Wallabies boast arguably the tournament’s leading player: the number eight has secured 14 turnovers for his side – five more than his nearest rival, and you could argue that the Aussies are stronger up front than the All Blacks. If the game turns into a ruck and maul fest then they may have the edge.
As ever, we can slice and dice statistics however we want to, but there’s no hiding behind the fact that Australia have only won once in their last 12 meetings with the All Blacks. That said, they have only tackled their biggest rivals twice under inspirational coach Michael Cheika; winning once (27-19 to seal the Rugby Championship) and losing once (a much-changed team were defeated a week after that initial triumph).
On the flipside, we know that New Zealand have lost just three matches since winning that World Cup back in 2011. They have scored a whopping 36 tries in this year’s tournament and conceded just four, so if their backs get plenty of ball in hand they will take some stopping.
If you are a fan of omens, you’ll like to know that Australia have won both of the World Cup finals held in the UK, in 1991 and 1999 respectively. The bad news for Aussies is that of the side that won the World Cup for the Kiwis in 2011, most of the same faces remain, whilst this is largely unchartered territory for the Wallabies squad.
And of course the Kiwis will have no greater motivation to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy come Saturday night than to send off their six retiring greats – Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Tony Woodcock, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Keven Mealamu – in fine style.
So the scene is set for a fantastic finale to what has been a thoroughly enjoyable tournament. The best two teams are ready to duke it out, and it should be a stunning spectacle.
The purist, betting with their head rather than their heart, will be backing New Zealand to win (4/11), but knowing that three of the last five encounters between these two sides have been settled by less than ten points – as have the last three World Cup finals – we like the idea of backing the All Blacks with a winning margin of 1-12 points at 11/8.
And one final bit of information that may come in handy: the side winning at half-time has won all six previous Rugby World Cup finals.