The two best teams of the tournament are in the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final and we are set for a cracker.
Australia did not have it all there own way and neither did New Zealand but both finalists have crucially showed their clinical edge to get through. If one looks at the two immensely enjoyable semi-finals, the scoreboard does not necessarily tell the whole story.
Starting with the All Blacks; they were the only team who looked liked scoring tries against a very resilient South Africa side. It was very close but one never really felt that the result was going to go the way of Heyneke Meyer and his men.
It was likewise for the Wallabies. Four tries to none tells a story and Michael Cheika`s team were outstanding at executing their chances. Spare a word for Argentina; they played some wonderful running rugby, making at least half a dozen line breaks in the second half alone. Another improving area, though, for the Wallabies under Cheika has been their defence. They were as imperious in this part of the game as the All Blacks were in the first semi-final.
Once again we saw the magnificent David Pocock at his absolute best. This was another masterclass of ruling the breakdown as well as countless other interventions in the form of smashing rucks, making big hits and taking the ball up. With all due respect to Scotland, you have to think his presence alone last weekend would have made the Aussies route through to the semis that little bit easier.
The contests of the two backrows in both the semi-finals were almost matches in themselves. Such excellence in all four teams but perhaps one man who does not get the plaudits often enough is Scott Fardy. He hit as hard as anyone over the weekend and deserves a very honorable mention. Michael Hooper was his usual nuisance and it will be great to see who will come out as the biggest pest of them all when he goes toe-to-toe with the great Richie McCaw.
The Pumas fought so hard but they lost the breakdown battle, allowing the Aussies to clear their lines on multiple occasions. Perhaps the Wallabies were fortunate with a number of decisions going their way, particularly Adam Ashely Cooper`s third try. For such a big game where the margins are so fine, it should have gone to the TMO for a check. That said, Drew Mitchell`s mesmeric run deserved a try.
Farewell Boks and Pumas
I thought Argentina were magnificent in the way they kept on chipping away at Australia`s first half lead. They are truly a team on the rise and have quality oozing through their squad with the genius of Hernandez and Sanchez mixed in with some serious talent coming through the ranks. Imhoff, Teuclet, Cordero and a number of others have had superb tournaments.
South Africa can also hold their heads high given that they have been playing knockout rugby since their shock first round defeat to the Japanese. They may not play the most entertaining rugby but they came back magnificently in the last few weeks. With De Jaeger, Allende and Etzebeth to the fore, they will be as competitive as ever in 2019.
And now the finale
As per the formbook, we have the world`s two best teams in the final. As long as Australia can rest and recuperate, this could be a memorable match to provide a fitting end to an excellent tournament.
The Wallabies will back themselves. They have played so many high-pressure games in the last few weeks and they have come through with flying colors. They also beat the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship so they will know that they can topple the reigning world champions.
There are so many exciting individual battles to be played out, not least in the back row where there is sheer excellence in every position. Pocock versus Read and Hooper versus McCaw are worth the flight over from Sydney or Auckland alone. Every position has its significance and the Wallabies’ front row will have to step up, having come second best to the powerful Argentinians. Out wide is too difficult to call as there are very few weaknesses on either side.
Nerves and stamina for the big occasion
Ultimately the team which deals with the occasion and pressure that comes with being in the World Cup Final will win through.
The Wallabies have shown time and again in the last few weeks that they can be behind the score line or defending for their lives and still find a way to win.
New Zealand have had the easier path but have powered through an awful French team and a tough Springbok outfit to take their rightful place in the final. One senses that they have at least one more gear to go up to.
The million-dollar question is whether Australia has enough petrol in the tank to raise their game sufficiently to take the All Blacks on for 80 minutes. They have had to be somewhere near their best for the last three weeks and that must eventually take its toll.
North must look up to South
What is clear is that the northern hemisphere sides have much to learn still from their southern hemisphere counterparts. I was thinking how England would have fared in either of those two semi-finals and I don`t believe they would have got close. All of the semi-finalists have shown superior skill levels and consistency at crucial times that none of the home nations could match.
The ultimate goal, the biggest prize in rugby
So we have two of the sport`s oldest rivals to battle it out for the code`s biggest prize.
There is so little to choose from between the two sides that it could come down to a crucial decision that sways it either way. Goal kicking may be the defining factor and for all of Foley`s heroics (and he has been one of the tournament`s best) he is perhaps missing one too many, judging on the last two weekends. Dan Carter was excellent against the Springboks and he is kicking his goals.
Looking at the probable benches of both teams, the All Blacks may have the edge there by being able to call upon Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett to make an impact. A couple of one per centers which could make the difference.
I back New Zealand to regain their crown but by no more than five points.
IMAGE: Bernard Foley in action during the Bledisloe Cup match between Australia and New Zealand in August which the Wallabies won. The All Blacks remain favourites though for this week’s Rugby World Cup Final clash (By Intosportphotography / Shutterstock.com)