Local bragging rights and plenty more besides will be on the line when New Zealand take on neighbors Australia in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final at London’s Twickenham Stadium on Saturday. The two rivals will be competing for the honor of being crowned the first three-time champions, while for the All Blacks it is an opportunity to become the first ever back-to-back winners of the quadrennial event.
It is a rivalry that dates back 112 years, and in which, in contrast to the power balance in many other sports, has been dominated by New Zealand, winning 105 of the 154 official matches played between the two.
And it is New Zealand that are favorites to triumph in match 155. The All Blacks have sat atop the World Rugby rankings for the past six years, going from strength to strength since they ended their long drought for World Cup glory when winning on home soil in 2011.
Prior to that, ever since winning the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, New Zealand had developed a reputation as chokers, failing to make their brilliance count when it mattered most. Along the way there have been devastating losses, including to Australia in the semifinals in 2003 and twice to France, in the semifinals in 1999 and quarterfinals in 2007. But, having held on to beat France in a nail-biting final four years ago, Sunday’s final presents a chance to surely put to bed any notion of New Zealand struggling to fulfill their talent on the big stage.
They may feel that they have already done that in this tournament. After cruising through the Pool stage, but without reaching the heights of which they are capable, the All Blacks were faced by their old foes France in the last eight. Rather than wilt, the challenge was brushed aside in a brilliant, emphatic 62-13 victory.
The semifinals provided another meeting with a country that has provided some painful moments for New Zealand in the past. South Africa had famously come out on top in the 1995 World Cup final and they had the All Blacks in trouble, leading by five points at halftime and with New Zealand having a man in the sin bin. Yet this time New Zealand maintained their composure, and a drop goal by the record points scorer in international rugby, Dan Carter, propelled them toward a thrilling 20-18 win.
The final, though, will see them go up against opponents that have seemingly peaked at just the right time. A place in a first final since 2003 and the chance to land a first title since 1999 seemed a distant prospect a year ago, when Australia finished 2014 by losing six of seven matches, amid a change of coach.
But under Michael Cheika they have gradually found their feet, not least when beating New Zealand en route to winning the 2015 Rugby Championship, also including Argentina and South Africa. At the World Cup they had to do things the hard way, being faced with the toughest Pool in World Cup history alongside hosts England and Wales. The Wallabies emerged with flying colors, beating both to top the section, but were given an almighty scare before edging past Scotland 35-34 in a controversial quarterfinal.
Yet that match came without the services of key man David Pocock. With the No. 8 having returned to the team in Sunday’s semifinal against Argentina, Australia were back in their stride, benefiting from a fast start to storm to a 29-15 victory.
In the first World Cup final between the two neighbors, Australia now has a mouth-watering opportunity to spoil New Zealand’s quest for greatness and enshrine their own place as the most successful country in rugby history.
Betting odds (via Oddschecker)
New Zealand win: 2/5
Australia win: 12/5
Date: Saturday, Oct. 31
Time: noon EDT
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London