Andy McGeady: Feast of free-flowing rugby in store if stars can shine
Rugby World Cup final: All Blacks might just have enough in tank to defeat Australia
David Pocock and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe in last week’s semi-final: Pocock gave a wonderful display of thievery against Argentina. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
New Zealand and Australia will take the field on Saturday with each bidding to be the first nation to claim a third Rugby World Cup.
Fans of free-flowing, running rugby can look forward to Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Israel Folau and Bernard Foley. Dan Carter too, if he has a mind to. Where the breakdown is concerned, Richie McCaw comes with no trumpeting but, while one of the greatest players the game has seen remains atop the breakdown charts in terms of general nuisance, when it comes to pure thievery he’s up against an opposing backrow in transformational form: David Pocock.
There are many ways to affect a sports contest, but in some sports it’s more visible than others. In rugby one might think first of dynamic try-scoring ability, such as Christian Cullen or Julian Savea, or the game-changing pace and power of a Jonah Lomu. On current form Pocock might be in that league, given his potential for breaking an opponent’s rhythm.
Pocock’s discipline is also to be admired with just two penalties and three turnovers conceded. While the latter is partly to do with his comparative lack of carries relative to somebody like Kieran Read, that penalties figure is impressive.
While there has been some superb running and passing rugby so far, it would be premature to signal the death of the kicking game. In poor conditions, New Zealand and South Africa kicked the ball 87 times (47 by the All Blacks). Even in the Australia-Argentina semi-final, which had a feast of line breaks, there were 76 kicks in play. High stakes can make a team risk-averse.
New Zealand’s semi-final was tight and intense. Highly skilled given the conditions, but not everything went right for the All Blacks. Fourteen penalties conceded to South Africa’s six kept the latter involved. So Carter looked into the weapons locker and rolled out the drop goal. Good to have done that before the final, along with all the nerves that a drop goal in the final might bring. A nice practice run, which might be bad news for Australia.
A rare sight, the All Black drop goal. They’ve scored the fewest rate of drop goals in test rugby over the last decade; just nine in 137 tests.
While each tier one test nation has averaged between 2.1 and 2.7 penalty goals per game during that time, the rate of drop goals has a much wider range with England scoring them at 3½ times the rate of New Zealand.
LethalJonathan SextonRugby World Cup
The 2011 Rugby World Cup final did not trouble those who collate lists of great Rugby World Cup moments. France and New Zealand served up an 80-minute arm-wrestle.
A day free from rain would also be good for the players and the Twickenham crowd, as well as perhaps offering a more rewarding experience for those millions of viewers across two faraway rugby nations who will have to rise themselves at unholy hours to watch it.
New Zealand by eight.