Simon Mail previews the World Cup final and thinks the outsiders have a strong chance of denying New Zealand a successful defence...
"Australia will come into the final with the belief they can defeat the All Blacks having beaten the world champions 27-19 as recently as August in Sydney."
New Zealand v Australia
Saturday October 31, 16:00
Live on ITV
After more than a month of enthralling rugby the World Cup has delivered a fitting finale featuring the two best teams on the planet. It was always optimistic to hope the hosts could go all the way and the competition has thrown up so many great stories, despite England's early exit, such as Japan's heroics and Argentina's attacking brand of rugby. But New Zealand and Australia are the last teams standing and all the elements are in place for an epic showdown as they meet for the first time in the World Cup final.
The All Blacks have been on a mission since their triumph on home soil four years ago to become the first team to successfully defend the trophy. The world's top ranked team have so far handled all the pressure on their shoulders, as short-priced favourites, impeccably having overcome a host of different obstacles throughout the competition.
A very difficult opener against Argentina tested them at Wembley as they had to overturn a half-time deficit but it was cruise control after this during the rest of the pool. The All Blacks' brilliance was there for all to see in the quarter-finals as they absolutely destroyed a feeble France side 62-13. New Zealand were pushed all the way in the last-four but they showed their adaptability as they fought back in driving rain to edge out South Africa 20-18.
Australia have been a revelation in the World Cup and their performances have highlighted the exceptional transformation under Michael Cheika in the last year. The Wallabies looked in disarray 12 months ago but since Cheika has taken over he has helped resolve their issues in the scrum and given his players the belief they can compete with the best.
This all started with their Rugby Championship triumph this summer and rolled on into this tournament where Australia topped the toughest pool with victories over England and Wales. True, they did have one huge escape with a fortunate win over Scotland at the death in their last-eight tie but it showed their ability to win at all costs. The Wallabies' display in their 29-15 win over Argentina in the semi-final was much more impressive and demonstrated their clinical finishing which will be a threat to the champions.
One of the keys to victory for the outsiders is likely to be the impact of David Pocock. The hugely influential back row forward has been one of the players of the tournament with his consistent ability to steal the ball at the breakdown crucial to Australia's success. Pocock was badly missed when they almost lost to Scotland in the quarter-final and his presence could prove to be New Zealand's undoing.
Australia will come into the final with the belief they can defeat the All Blacks having beaten the world champions 27-19 as recently as August in Sydney. The most recent meeting saw New Zealand ease to a 41-13 win but it is worth noting the Wallabies were not at full strength with the likes of Bernard Foley and Pocock not in the starting lineup.
The Wallabies may not have had the edge overall in recent clashes between the teams but they do hold victories over New Zealand in both World Cup ties. Australia defeated the All Blacks 22-10 in their home tournament in 2003 and also won 16-6 in Ireland at the 1991 competition. These may be a long time ago but it just reaffirms the underdogs have what it takes to beat their fierce rivals on the big stage.
The World Cup finals have often been tense, tight affairs and this year's showdown may be no different. New Zealand only scraped past France 8-7 four years ago and four of the last six have been settled by a maximum of six points. It would not be a surprise if Saturday's final followed suit and Australia are well worth backing with a six-point handicap advantage.
It may not have a significant bearing but Australia have claimed both of their World Cup triumphs in England and Wales. New Zealand are also chasing a first competition win outside their homeland and they have the weight of expectation on their shoulders. The All Blacks will face their hardest examination against Australia and the favourites are certainly not nailed on to win. In a one-off final, the Wallabies look over-priced at [3.55] and have the quality and belief to land their third World Cup.
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