Steve Hansen (Gallo Images)
Twickenha – Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will lead New Zealand’s charge for a place among rugby’s all-time greats on Saturday when they battle Australia in the World Cup final at Twickenham.
A convincing win over Michael Cheika’s reborn Wallabies to become the first country to win two straight world titles –and three in all — could see the All Blacks acclaimed as the best of all time.
A titanic battle is guaranteed for the 80,000-plus crowd who will witness the first final between two sides who have dominated rugby’s showpiece since it started in 1987.
At least one of them has been in every final, except 2007. Never together though.
Cheika is sure it will be another big chapter in punishing duels at this World Cup. The Australian coach paid tribute to the All Blacks’ powerful game.
“It’s pretty much their modus operandi, they have got great leg drive and I love that style of play,” Cheika said at Twickenham on Friday.
“We want to bring physicality to the game too,” he added.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is banking on the experience of McCaw, fly-half great Carter and their fellow Test centurion Ma’a Nonu.
McCaw is at his fourth World Cup and led New Zealand to their narrow 8-7 win over France in the 2011 final.
“He’s probably the greatest player we’ve had play the game, certainly from New Zealand anyway,” the coach said.
Carter, who has a world record 1,579 Test points, will be in his fourth World Cup but in his first final.
The match has been billed as the battle of the breakdown, McCaw leading the All Black marauders against Australia’s jackals David Pocock and Michael Hooper.
Cheika has played up the underdogs tag. But he has aces up his sleeve with Pocock a hot contender for player of the tournament.
A running game is in the offing from two of the world’s best attacking sides.
“The boys are feeling fresh and energised,” said Hansen. “I couldn’t be happier with where we are at. We’ll be looking to put in a performance all of us can be proud of.”
Australia have taken a tough road to the final – beating Wales, England, Scotland and Argentina – but Cheika there is “still have lots of scope to improve.”
And with his usual gritty determination, he added: “We want to be proud of what we do on Saturday and make Australians even more proud of us, by giving everything we’ve got on Saturday.”
If the breakdown is going to be decisive, it is on the wings where the action will be.
All Blacks left wing Julian Savea is the leading try-scorer in the tournament with eight, needing one more to set a World Cup record.
Adam Ashley-Cooper, tasked with stopping the giant New Zealander, scored a hat-trick in the Wallabies semi-final win over Argentina.
Wallabies left wing Drew Mitchell needs one more try to equal the World Cup total record of 15 held by former All Black Jonah Lomu and South Africa’s Bryan Habana.
Mitchell marks Nehe Milner-Skudder, a first year All Black who is one of three finalists for the “breakthrough player of the year” award.
Mitchell, who has returned to the Wallaby side after a three year exile because he is based abroad, said Australia must now show the defending champions too much respect.
“They have achieved a lot not just for New Zealand,” said Mitchell.
“We will give them due respect, but at the same time we want to go out there and perform. We will congratulate them afterwards but there will not be any of that before the game.”
New Zealand and Australia have a unique relationship where they are brothers-in-arms everywhere except the sports field where they are the fiercest of rivals.
There is a need to settle the score this year where they have one win each, and the need to see which side will be the first to win a third World Cup.
“There’s nothing more competitive than Australia versus New Zealand. No matter what code, what occasion. Cricket, football, you name it,” Ashley-Cooper said before the 2011 semi-final which New Zealand won 20-6.
New Zealand’s two World Cups have both been on home soil in 1987 and 2011. Australia won in 1991 at Twickenham and in 1999 in Cardiff.