RWC Final 2015: The key head-to-heads

Gerry Thornley examines the key areas Australia and New Zealand will do battle

New Zealand’s Richie McCaw is tackled by Australia’s David Pocock during the 2015 Rugby Championship. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

New Zealand’s Richie McCaw is tackled by Australia’s David Pocock during the 2015 Rugby Championship. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

 

THE BREAKDOWN

Richie McCaw

Position: Flanker.

Age: 34.

Height: 1.87m/6’ 2”.

Weight: 107kg/16st 12lbs.

Caps: 147 (27 tries)

Why he’s so important? Rugby’s most capped player of all time. Described by Steve Hansen as New Zealand’s best ever player and captain, and probably the best the game has ever seen. Breakdown specialist, supreme tackler, carrier, line-out option and hard as nails. That’s all. Led All Blacks to the trophy four years ago on one leg. This time has two. Eclipsed by Pocock and Hooper in Sydney; gained revenge in Eden Park a week later. The ultimate big game player. Probably his last ever test.

Tournament so far? Yellow carded against Argentina, tellingly McCaw has had his most influential matches in their two hardest games, the opener against Argentina and last week against South Africa. When the tough get going etc, and his leadership is incalculable.

David Pocock

Position: Nuumber 8

Age: 27.

Height: 1.87m/6’ 2”.

Weight: 115kg/18st 2lbs.

Caps: 54 (6 tries)

Why he’s so important? His ability to read a tackle and position himself over an opposition ball carrier is uncanny, and coupled with the phenomenal natural strength that saw him make his Super Rugby debut at 18 and test debut at 20, makes him the hardest man around to shift at the breakdown. The All Blacks may have to flood the rucks to nullify Pocock’s impact.

Tournament so far? Was the apex of two rolling maul tries against Fiji. Immense against England and Wales, he was sorely missed against Scotland but returned with virtuoso performance against the Pumas, when his four turnovers took his tournament tally to 14 (seven more than anyone else, and six more than McCaw). Also tackled and carried until most others would have dropped.

THE DUEL AT THE BASE

Aaron Smith

Position: Scrum-half.

Age: 26.

Height: 1.71m/5’ 7”

Weight: 82kg/13st.

Caps: 46 (12 tries, 1 con)

Why he’s so important? His pass. Like a bullet off either hand. It’s so good it’s been compared to Chris Laidlaw, the benchmark of All Blacks’ passing scrum-halves from the 60s. Coupled with his nippiness to the breakdown, he’s the reason these All Blacks can play as they do. Also snipes, supports, kicks and tackles. Best scrum-half in the world.

Tournament so far? Solidly good and selflessly effective for team without being too flash, ala Peter Stringer in his pomp with Ireland. Was targeted by Boks, making eight tackles, but came through to ultimately out-kick Fourie du Preez. Few breaks, yet!

Will Genia

Position: Scrum-half.

Age: 27.

Height: 1.74m/5’ 9”.

Weight: 82kg/13st.

Caps: 63 (8 tries)

Why he’s so important? A key decision-maker in the Wallabies’ on-field Brains Trust. Not as snappy a pass as Smith’s, but good all-round footballer who can be brilliant in broken play. Was best scrum-half in the world going into the 2011 tournament. Wants his title back, and a winners’ medal.

Tournament so far? After three years troubled by knee injuries and form, was a slightly surprising pick but on his day is the Wallabies’ best scrum-half and has cemented his place as starting scrum-half in all bar the Uruguayan game. Less of a running threat than of yore, but good link and superb covering defence against rampaging Pumas.

INSIDE CENTRE

Ma’a Nonu

Position: Inside Centre.

Age: 33.

Height: 1.82m/ 6’ 0”.

Weight: 107kg/16st 12lbs.

Caps: 102 (30 tries)

Why he’s so important? Came onto the scene has a powerful runner with great footwork, and has added a kicking and passing game or genuine test quality, which is testimony to his self-improvement and elite NZ coaching. No less than Giteau, and differently, a talisman for the All Blacks game.

Tournament so far? Has gradually worked way back to his best. Untypically caught out defensively early on last week, but responded with play of the day in using his footwork and offloading to create Beauden Barrett try. And has kept Sonny Bill Williams on the bench. As Michael Cheika put it this week: “Says it all really.”

Matt Giteau

Position: Inside Centre.

Age: 33.

Height: 1.78m/5’ 10”.

Weight: 85kg/13st 5lbs.

Caps: 101 (30 tries, 698pts).

Why he’s so important? Provides great footballing abilities, be it running, passing or two-footed kicking game as well as vision, as well as alternate first receiver, not to mention an under-rated tackling game, and as Australia’s only survivor from the 2003 final, vast experience too.

Tournament so far? Ticked every box against England, stepping in as first receiver and using a masterful kicking game, and through out wondrous skip pass for Adam Ashley-Cooper’s hat-trick try last week. And as Nonu himself generously conceded on Thursday, Giteau has been the best defensive ‘12’ of the tournament.

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