We are now at the business end of the Rugby World Cup. It is a Bledisloe Cup
Will it be Australia or New Zealand who become the first team to win the World Cup three times. It is fitting that the only 2 unbeaten teams are in the final. If you had said one of them would be Australia a year ago (apart from being in the hardest group), when they were self destructing with in fighting and disciplinary issues under Ewen McKenzie you would be looked at as if you were stupid. Michael Chieka, has done a remarkable job, in such a short period of time, winning the Rugby Championship and peaking just at the right time. Australia, have a habit of doing this in World Cup year, having only twice in eight tournaments failed to reach the semi finals. They got lucky against Scotland (the refereeing decision apart, they were the better team), and comfortably saw off England, Wales and Argentina. What might work against them is that this will be the 5 successive weeks where they have played a tier 1 nation. The match where they may have felt they would not be pushed so far, was the one where they came closest to defeat. I feel that this will a step to far for them, though they have beaten New Zealand recently in Sydney, though they lost the return Bledisloe Cup game in Auckland. Having said that it was not the same team that played in the first game.
As for New Zealand, they were seriously tested against South Africa, having had a relatively easy ride through the pool game and the Quarter Finals. This will benefit them, as their players are used to playing knock out rugby, week in week out in Super Rugby. Compared to the northern hemisphere teams and to a lesser extent Australia, the whole team / squad are able to do the simple things to a high level under pressure. The use and execution of passing in both simple and complex situations, makes most situations in a game when they have the ball (in their own or the opposition 22) a potential point scoring opportunity. This ability is built from an early age, where rather than doing age based competition, they are weight restricted up to the age of 13. This allows players who develop physically at different times through their adolescence, the opportunity to play and develop game based skills. Considering that there are many players from South Sea heritage, who are bigger and stronger earlier in life, it stops skilful smaller being lost to the game.
It is a conveyer belt of talent that has allowed New Zealand reach the last two finals, and without an inspired French team in Cardiff in 2007, it could have been three.
It has been a great competition from the first weekend, with Japan’s upset of South Africa, to the QFs and the SFs. There has not been many one sided games and only a four teams scoring more than 60 points, and one of those were in the Quarter Final. The gap is closing between all teams, but there is still an issue with FT professionals playing against players where rugby is a hobby. Thankfully World Rugby is trying to invest in the up and coming countries. This is seen with Romanian and Georgian players all playing in European leagues, which has helped develop and get better results against the Top 10.
As for the Final, it has to be New Zealand for me. The only way I can see Australia win is if they get a lead early and keep their noses in front.