New Zealand v Australia: Why the World Cup final is not to be missed
|Rugby World Cup final - New Zealand v Australia|
|Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 31 October Kick-off: 16:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live; live text commentary on BBC Sport website, app & mobile devices|
So, England's early departure from their own party was merely a hiccup. Bit of a shame, bit of an embarrassment for the hosts, bit of a problem for the old legacy merchants - but what a party it turned out to be anyway. And there's plenty of fizz left.
On Saturday at Twickenham, defending champions New Zealand will play Antipodean neighbours Australia in the eighth Rugby World Cup final. It promises to be a fitting finale to arguably the finest World Cup ever.
For those whose interest waned following the exit of their chosen team - for the first time no European side reached the semi-finals - and accepting you should watch a World Cup final because, well, it's a World Cup final, here are a few reminders of why you should tune in.
Given it will be 3am in Sydney and 5am in Auckland, you've got no excuse.
One of rugby's greatest rivalries
The All Blacks and the Wallabies have been going at it since 1903 and played each other 154 times in total, more than England have played Scotland (and they first played in 1871). New Zealand have won 105 matches, Australia 42, with seven draws.
Australia have won only one of the last 12 Tests against New Zealand, although that was as recently as August. And Wallabies fans will take heart from the fact that their side have won two out of three meetings between the sides in World Cups, in 1991 and 2003. The All Blacks beat Australia on home soil in 2011.
|World Cup final stats|
|New Zealand are aiming to become the first side to win back-to-back World Cups.||The side winning at half-time has won all previous seven Rugby World Cup finals.|
|If the All Blacks win it would be their first World Cup title outside of New Zealand.||The Wallabies have won just one of their last 12 Tests against New Zealand (D2, L9).|
Despite the All Blacks or Australia having featured in six of seven previous World Cup finals - three times each, with two wins apiece - they have never appeared in a final together.
One of sport's greatest rivalries
In truth, Australia and New Zealand are more like a couple of close siblings who fall out every now and again, than enemies who actually hate each other.
When it was put to New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen that the Aussies have been avoiding calling his side the All Blacks, he replied in typically laconic fashion: "I didn't know that. They can call us what they like. And being Aussies, they probably will."
It could be said that rugby union is to Australia what cricket is to New Zealand, and vice versa. But this only makes it all the sweeter when either one of them manages to upset the other in their national sport. At least for the underdog.
Australia thrashed New Zealand in this year's Cricket World Cup final; they have met in the last three Rugby League World Cup finals (2-1 to Australia, including the last one in 2013); and the last five Netball World Cup finals (4-1 to Australia, including the last one this year). As for football, the All Whites have not beaten the Socceroos since 2002.
The greatest team in international sport?
Given that there are only 4.6m people in New Zealand - compared to 24m across the Tasman in Australia - their domination of rugby union is remarkable. The All Blacks have won 412 of their 537 internationals, a winning percentage of almost 80%, and have lost only three since winning the World Cup in 2011.
Since world rankings were introduced just before the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks have been top dogs for more than 80% of the time, with only England and South Africa managing - briefly - to knock them off their perch.
If the All Blacks win on Saturday, they will be the first team to win three Rugby World Cups. New Zealand are also bidding to become the first team to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy.
British sports fans love an underdog. The problem for British sports fans is that the underdog on Saturday will be Australia. Except for the fact the Wallabies have never lost a World Cup match on UK soil. Pick the bones out of that lot.
Last chance to see some of the greats…
Victory over Australia would make them the greatest All Blacks side ever - and therefore the greatest rugby team ever. Not only are there 1,339 caps in their squad for the final, almost every member of Steve Hansen's side can claim to be the best in the world in their position. Centre Sonny Bill Williams, who will be on the bench again against the Aussies, might be the most gifted replacement in history.
Unfortunately for New Zealand, Saturday will be the last match in an All Blacks jersey for a number of all-time greats. Skipper Richie McCaw (147 Tests) is expected to call it a day after leading his country for the 110th time, while fly-half Dan Carter (111), hooker Keven Mealamu (131) and centres Ma'a Nonu (102) and Conrad Smith (93) definitely are. That's a whole lot of know-how heading towards the exit.
But the Wallabies, too, will be waving goodbye to a mountain of experience - centre Matt Giteau (101 Tests) and wings Adam Ashley-Cooper (113) and Drew Mitchell (69) are all expected to quit international rugby after Saturday.
Battles within the war
While this All Blacks side contains an awful lot of greats, Australia flanker-turned-number eight David Pocock has arguably been the most influential player of the tournament. So far.
On Saturday, Pocock will be pitted against McCaw, who for a long time has been thought of as the dark master of the breakdown. Australia's back-row of Pocock, Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy was instrumental in their side's victory over the All Blacks in August - and all three are playing again this time.
All Blacks wing Julian Savea needs one more try to break the record for the most in an individual World Cup (currently eight, jointly held by fellow New Zealand number 11 Jonah Lomu and South Africa's Bryan Habana). But opposite number Ashley-Cooper is not only an attacking threat - he scored three tries in the semi-final against Argentina - he is also pretty handy in defence.
At fly-half, Carter, playing in his first World Cup final having missed the last one through injury, is up against Bernard Foley, who has come of age in this tournament (witness his clinical dissection of England); in the centres, Nonu and Giteau, those two old war dogs, will go at it again; while in the front row, Dane Coles's all-round game will be up against Stephen Moore's nous and leadership.
Worth a punt?
Australia head coach Michael Cheika has quipped his way through the tournament and he airily dismissed talk of tactics and technicalities before the big one: "On Saturday there will be 46 pig-headed fellas out there trying to win."
When there are that many pig-headed fellas trying to win something that desperately, definitively picking a winner becomes a little bit tricky.
For the record, the All Blacks are 5-2 on with most bookmakers, while the Aussies are running at 5-2. But you might want to have a punt on the first try-scorer instead: Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu has the longest odds at 80-1 - and scored the first try against New Zealand in August. When the Wallabies won.