Australia enter Saturday’s 2015 Rugby World Cup final at London’s Twickenham Stadium faced with the ominous task of trying to topple a team many consider the best in the sport’s history. Yet there are reasons to believe that the Wallabies can thwart New Zealand’s bid to become the first country to retain the trophy.
Standing out among those factors is that Australia were the last team to get the better of the All Blacks, when triumphing 27-19 in Sydney in August en route to winning the Rugby Championship. And even though New Zealand gained revenge with a 41-13 in Auckland a week later, that was with a much-changed Wallabies side. New Zealand may have only lost three times since triumphing in the 2011 World Cup, but the fact that Australia have accomplished that feat less than three months should certainly prevent them from being overawed.
Confidence should also come from Australia’s remarkable turnaround in the past 11 months. The Wallabies finished 2014 with a woeful six defeats in seven matches. It was also during that run that Ewen Mckenzie stepped down as coach amid a texting scandal involving a player and team official. Michael Cheika was thrown into the deep end as his replacement with a remit of transforming the team’s fortunes in quick order to avoid humiliation at a World Cup in which Australia were drawn into toughest Pool in competition history.
He has already done far more than that. Australia have been switched on from the off at this World Cup, beating both hosts England and a strong Wales side to top Pool A. They then endured a real scare, requiring a controversial last-minute penalty to get past Scotland in the quarterfinals. But that was without key man David Pocock. With the No. 8 back in the lineup, the Wallabies thrived on a fast start to beat Argentina and take a place in their first World Cup final since losing to England in 2003.
Australia will certainly be battle-hardened for the final, a fact evidenced by just a cursory glance at the face of Pocock. The flanker is currently sporting two black eyes, as well as a broken nose that leaked blood throughout the semifinal. Yet there is little doubt that he will take the field on Saturday and that he will be a pivotal figure in an outstanding back-row trio. Perhaps the player of the World Cup so far, Pocock is a master of picking the ball off, registering a tournament-high 14 steals, five more than any other player. Crucially, he is capable of getting the better of New Zealand captain Richie McCaw and turning the battle in Australia’s favor.
Also counting in Australia’s favor could well be the team’s familiarity with the surroundings they will encounter in the final. While New Zealand didn’t get a run out at Twickenham in this World Cup until a narrow semifinal win over South Africa, Australia have made it their home away from home. Cheika’s men have played their last four matches at the “home of rugby.” And they came out on top against England, Wales, Scotland and Argentina, despite the majority of the 80,000-plus crowds being against them. It is likely to be a similar scenario on Saturday against the popular All Blacks, but Australia will not be fazed.
“The crowd has got more gold as we've gone along but we've pretty much been the away team the whole way through but our supporters at the ground have been unbelievable,” Cheika said this week, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “The players have really remarked on it and I'm sure they'll be there in numbers on Saturday and they'll enjoy the ride.”
With the chance to beat their local rivals to the honor of becoming the first three-time Rugby World Cup winners, it could be a memorable day for those in gold.