Twick­en­ham ready for fit­ting cli­max to great­est World Cup of them all

This de­cider be­tween the tour­na­ment’s only two un­beaten sides, has the mak­ings of an epic

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Mick Cleary

Twick­en­ham was busy putting on its World Cup fin­ery yes­ter­day. A golden hue was added to the sta­dium liv­ery in homage to the Webb El­lis tro­phy, gi­ant replica shirts of the fi­nal­ists were draped over stat­ues in the south-east cor­ner, the laser light show was fine-tun­ing, as were the two teams on their tra­di­tional cap­tain’s run, the men in black, those ul­ti­mate power dressers and the gold-and­green gag­gle of “jok­ers, lovers and fight­ers” as Aus­tralia coach Michael Cheika termed his band of Wal­laby broth­ers. The show is good to go.

The great­est of all World Cups, the most up­beat and com­pet­i­tive, the most sparkly and en­ter­pris­ing on the field, the best at­tended off the field, has got its fit­ting fi­nale. It is Ali against Fra­zier, Fed­erer against Nadal, Brazil against Spain in their re­spec­tive pomp, the only two un­beaten sides in the tour­na­ment, first and sec­ond in the global rank­ings, with only one de­feat in the 2015 ledger for each of them, fit­tingly the loss com­ing against the other.

The tale of the tape brooks no ar­gu­ment. This is the best against the pu­ta­tive best, with New Zealand look­ing to cre­ate his­tory by be­com­ing the first team to win back-to-back World Cups, while the as­pir­ing Aus­tralians have the goal of be­com­ing the first to win three World Cups. Trans-Tas­man ri­vals, An­zac al­lies, ge­og­ra­phy di­vides as well as unites them, some­thing has to give.

There are cer­tain mo­ments when the sport­ing world comes to a stand­still to take heed of a con­test be­tween blue-chip con­tenders, when class and tal­ent will be on show, when char­ac­ter will be re­vealed, when nerve will be un­der duress, when na­tions (an en­tire one in the case of New Zealand) will rise from their beds at an early hour and know that their dawn vigil will be worth ev­ery sec­ond of fore­short­ened sleep. This is one of those mo­ments.

This was the tour­na­ment we thought could not sur­vive the early exit of hosts England. It did and it has. It was the tour­na­ment we feared might be over­priced and un­der­sub­scribed. Yet the sta­di­ums have been packed to the rafters. And any con­cerns that the sport­ing fare would be stodgy and pre­dictable were blown away on a won­der­fully dra­matic open­ing week­end. Ja­pan’s vic­tory over South Africa en­sured the suc­cess of two World Cups in one fell swoop, this one and the one to come. From the far North East to the South West, the 2015 Rugby World Cup has given us a ta­pes­try of rich and in­tense colours.

The fi­nal in­scrip­tion is yet to be wo­ven. But who can doubt that it will end with a flour­ish? The con­test it­self will surely be grip­ping but also fac­tor in the farewell-to-arms of Kiwi gla­di­a­tors, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, dif­fer­ing types, one rooted in South Is­land soil, the other more cos­mopoli­tan, but bonded in their peer­less quest for per­fec­tion on a rugby field as well as their devo­tion to the sil­ver fern. There is not a Kiwi on the planet who will not be rais­ing a glass to them.

New Zealand have the sta­tus of favourites, and rightly so. Their nine-try evis­cer­a­tion of France in the quar­ter-fi­nal should have be­come an in­struc­tional video for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, a free­wheel­ing per­for­mance that was com­ple­mented by their dead-eyed 20-18 win over the Spring­boks, the most com­pre­hen­sive two-point vic­tory in this World Cup.

New Zealand have strike weapons of de­struc­tive ca­pac­ity in wings Ju­lian Savea (who has scored a record-equalling eight tries) and the low-slung Nehe Mil­nerSkud­der, and a pack that have grunt in the tight as well as snap in the loose with those hard-driv­ing legs. Joe Moody, third choice loose­head at the start of the tour­na­ment, has to re­sist what has been a de­cent Wal­laby scrum­mage. This has proven to be an all-court New Zealand side, at ease with them­selves and with any type of game.

Aus­tralia, by con­trast, have had to slug their way to this point, com­ing through the tough­est of pools ever de­vised, draw­ing out the rapier against England, man­ning the bar­ri­cades against Wales, then rid­ing their luck against Scot­land and Ar­gentina. In the process, of course, in those games, they scored tries. Lots of them. Their wings, too, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell, know their way to the try-line.

Surely, too, there is more to come from sub­dued full-back Is­rael Fo­lau? Aus­tralia’s build-up work, crafted by the mid­field combo of Bernard Fo­ley and Matt Giteau, has been clever and force­ful.

The Wal­la­bies will not per­ish for want of try­ing, but no one plays the long-haul game bet­ter than New Zealand. They play to the last peep. The fat lady has a short gig when the All Blacks are in town.

Of all the tan­ta­lis­ing match-ups none is more so than the bat­tle of the breakdown. McCaw against Aus­tralian Re­nais­sance Man, David Po­cock. If Po­cock thrives, then Aus­tralia could even pull off a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory, one of the great­est in their his­tory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.