It has felt like a very short two months for rugby fans around the world, as the Rugby World Cup has dwindled down to a mere two remaining games left. In the bronze match for third place in the tournament, a surprisingly thorough Argentinian team will face South Africa, who recovered from their early loss to Japan but could not make it to the final. This year’s cup has seen its fair share of drama, so what other way to finish it than a classic match?
The defending champions, the New Zealand All Blacks, play against their bitter rivals, the Australia Wallabies. The sides will face-off Halloween day in London at legendary Twickenham Stadium at 4 p.m. eastern. These teams have met hundreds of times before, but never in the championship game of the World Cup. Both will be in pursuit of their nation’s third RWC championship, and neither are going to go down without a fight.
The tale of the tape goes something like this; the All Blacks have been almost perfect in every game they’ve played since the cup started back in September. Aside from their quarterfinal match against South Africa, New Zealand averaged 52 points per game. It is true they did not have nearly as difficult a pool to play as teams like England and Australia, but those numbers are hard to argue against regardless. And in that match against South Africa, which they won 20-18, the kiwis showed the world exactly why they’re the best.
On the Australian side, the Wallabies were able to escape a tough pool featuring Wales and tournament host England. En route to the championship, they also defeated fellow United Kingdom member Scotland in the quarterfinals, 35-34. Despite sometimes looking like chickens without heads, Australia has managed to find paydirt time and time again. Against the All Blacks, however, that will not do.
If Australia wants to win this game, they will have to dig far deeper than anyone has before. This All Blacks team is poised for legendary status. Julian Savea, appropriately nicknamed “the Bus,” has been barreling over defenders mercilessly for the last two months. Veteran forwards Kieran Read and Richie McCaw have perfected the defensive strategy. Dan Carter’s kicking abilities have been, like the All Blacks performances, nearly perfect. Carter leads the All Blacks with 63 points in the tourney, and Savea leads the world in tries scored with eight. It may seem impossible, but even this All Blacks side has a chink in their glimmering ebony armor.
Australia will need to maintain possession of the ball as long as they can and maximize their phase play, something they have been struggling with lately. They’ll also have to come together as a defensive unit and shut down the All Blacks offense like they did against Wales and England. When the All Blacks are on their heels, however rare it may be, they give up a lot of penalties. Queue Bernard Foley, who has done very well so far when kicking for penalty points. Scoring opportunities are rare against New Zealand and if the Wallabies capitalize, this could go their way. But that is all theoretically.
On a much more real note, the All Blacks will continue to do what they do best: play smart, physical rugby for all 80 minutes. They will look to move the ball within the forwards for much of the first half, and open up the field as soon as they see the chance. Ma’a Nonu, New Zealand’s feared center, along with young kiwi, Savea are extremely hard to cover in open space, which they will find often if Australia tires early.
A key matchup to watch will be the battle of the 8-mans. Kieran Read, former IRB Player of the Year, has been a powerful force for the All Blacks ever since his debut in 2008. Opposite him this Saturday will be Australia’s rising 8, David Pocock. Pocock leads the tournament in turnovers won with 14 and played through a broken nose in the Aussies semi-final win over Argentina. Despite being much smaller than Read, Pocock is being labelled Australia’s young hope against the fearsome All Blacks.
Once the clock strikes 80 minutes and the referee blows his whistle Saturday, history can take two paths. New Zealand will have capped one of its most dominant tournament performances, stampeding through competition in classic All Blacks style. Or Australia, who enter the game battered and bruised from the tough competition they’ve seen throughout the tournament, will overcome great adversity and essentially shock the world. One of these teams will have won their record third world cup championship, and it’ll be even sweeter looking over and seeing who they defeated to get it. I see this match going the way of the All Blacks, 27-22.