Rugby World Cup 2011: Meads predicts NZ-Wales final

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer in Te Kuiti, North Island

All Blacks legend Colin Meads has backed New Zealand and Wales to win their World Cup semi-finals and set up a dream final at Eden Park.

Meads, voted the greatest player in his country's history, will be in Auckland to watch both semis.

"France are so unpredictable, but on present form I'd back Wales," he told BBC Sport.

"I've said all the way through that we'll win the World Cup, so I've got to stick with that."

Meads recognises the danger posed by Australia, but believes the hosts will prevail over their great rivals despite missing star fly-half Dan Carter, his understudy Colin Slade and full-back Mils Muliaina.

"The All Blacks have got to learn to relax, to put their top game out on Sunday, because if they don't put it all out, they'll come off second," he warned.

"But over 15 players I think the All Blacks have got the edge. We've had our problems - all teams have had injuries, and we've had our share. It's just how they cover those injuries up."

Meads, 75, said he had been particularly impressed by the form of Welsh fly-half Rhys Priestland and 19-year-old wing sensation George North.

"A lot of these Welsh were unknown to us before this World Cup, and we're surprised how young they are and what they are achieving," he said.

"The young 10 [Priestland] looks pretty neat, and that fella North is going to be one hell of a player. He's tearing the world apart."

Meads, who freely admits he and his team-mates used to drink after training sessions and heavily after matches during his own 13-year career at the top of international rugby, said he had sympathy with the plight of England manager Martin Johnson.

Meads worked closely with Johnson when the future England captain played for his King Country side while on a two-year sabbatical in New Zealand as a young man.

"Martin will be terribly disappointed with what happened. He spent most of his time covering up his players' misdemeanours.

"But that's the trouble with modern rugby - you go out to a bar and everyone's got cameras on their cellphones.

"To me that's quite unnecessary - the players didn't do too much wrong, they just had a few beers.

"They didn't break anything, they didn't smash the hotel up, not like Willie John McBride's Lions did in 1976 or whenever it was. Too much was made of it."

Meads said that an All Blacks triumph in the final - which would be their first World Cup win since the inaugural tournament of 1987 - would transform the country.

"It would mean everything," he said. "It would boost rugby here so much - we're losing a lot of young players to soccer, because our soccer team did well at the World Cup, and a lot of the mums are getting a bit precious - ah, little Jonny's got to be protected, I'd rather he plays soccer.

"But if we win the World Cup, every kid in New Zealand will be wanting to be Richie McCaw or Ma'a Nonu."

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