It’s been a miserable experience for the England faithful, but the Rugby World Cup has more than lived up to expectations in terms of quality, drama and controversy. After a long four year wait for the tournament, England were left licking their wounds having been dispatched at the group stage; but New Zealand and Australia have made their way to the final at Twickenham, and will contest the famous Web Ellis Trophy on Saturday afternoon.
Argentina were one of the stories of the World Cup reaching the semi finals against the odds, but they were just one of the many great tales to come out of the competition. The first shock was Japan’s incredible victory over South Africa in their pool opener, although the Springboks recovered sufficiently to reach the semi finals and will compete for third place with Argentina on Friday night.
Wales were superb throughout the competition and came away with huge credit for their displays against England and Australia, despite suffering a host of injuries. They eventually went down in a close quarter final against South Africa, but once again emerged with plenty of plaudits. Scotland and Ireland were also dismissed at the quarter final stage at the hands of Australia and Argentina respectively, and for the first time ever, the World Cup semi finals were an all-Southern Hemisphere affair.
The Semi Finals
New Zealand were the first side to book their place in the final with a marginal 20-18 victory over South Africa, in which they were made to work particularly hard to claim the win. We backed the All Blacks to win the World Cup as far back as March at +150 and if you took some of that action, you should be sitting pretty right now.
The All Blacks dominated possession and territory during the match, but had to battle through the rain and a very physical Springbok side to grind out the win. Kaino and Barrett scored the all-important tries, while Dan Carter kicked ten points to outscore the South Africans who kicked six penalties. It was a very different performance from New Zealand to the extravagant one which saw them rack up 62 points against France in last week’s quarter final. This time they had to demonstrate defensive strength to stand up to the Springbok’s aggressive physical play, which threatened to win the day as All Black indiscipline saw them repeatedly punished at the breakdown. At 12-7 down at half-time it looked like South Africa might pull off the shock, but New Zealand were back out on the pitch five minutes before the restart to go through drills in the rain, and they took control throughout the second half.
Adam Ashley-Cooper notched a hat-trick of tries for Australia as they claimed their final spot by beating Argentina 29-15 in the other semi final on Sunday. Both he and Rob Simmons touched down in the first ten minutes to send the Wallabies on their way, and the Pumas were never able to recover and mount a serious challenge. Argentina have won plenty of fans over the course of this tournament and the future looks promising, but they were unable to break through a resolute Australian defence in only their second ever World Cup semi final. All fifteen of their points came from the boot of Nicolas Sanchez, and despite their fast and flowing rugby, it proved too little in the end.
That has set up a classic final between two of the powerhouses of world rugby, with the all-conquering All Blacks facing the back-to-form Wallabies.
Australia v New Zealand
We are in no mind to abandon our tip on New Zealand, and they also look worth backing to cover a -6 points handicap at +100 with Skybet
New Zealand are aiming to become the first side ever to retain the Web Ellis trophy, and Australian Head Coach Michael Cheika has admitted his side will need “something special” to be able to compete with their neighbours on Saturday. Many pundits have called New Zealand’s win over South Africa ‘winning ugly’ and it’s a fair description. With a half-time deficit and nine penalties conceded, lesser teams might have crumbled, but the All Blacks simply rolled up their sleeves and did the necessary ‘dirty work’ to dig out the victory. Having only lost three times in four years, there is a steel and a self-belief to this team that others can only dream of.
Head to Head
The Aussies will take heart from the fact that they beat New Zealand 27-19 in the Rugby Championship earlier in the year, but overall the All Blacks have won 105 of 154 meetings to Australia’s 42, including a 41-13 victory later on in the same Rugby Championship tournament.
Australia do have history on their side however, as they won the World Cup the last time the final was held at Twickenham in 1991. It must be said though, that although they have turned around their form impressively since Cheika’s appointment in October 2014, this is another big step up in terms of opposition and the Aussies have it all to do.
This will be a classic encounter, and despite the home fans disappointment that they are not represented, Twickenham should still be rocking for rugby’s biggest game in four years. Australia will have to try and emulate the superb defensive display they showed against England and Wales to hold the two out during the pool stages, and stand up to the All Blacks powerful forwards. New Zealand, however, are as close to a complete rugby team as you are likely to see, and in Richie McCaw they have one of the greatest players to grace the field. If he can lead his side to victory he will become the first man to lift consecutive World Cups, and having got as far as this position it’s difficult to imagine New Zealand throwing it away now.
New Zealand -6 to beat Australia
Saturday 31st October, 16:00 GMT
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