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
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.