THE ODDS WERE always in favour of New Zealand and Australia meeting at stage in this Rugby World Cup. Perhaps not in the semi-finals though – Ireland can take credit for that.
There are, however, a couple of factors to consider before you set your alarm clock and hit the hay this evening.
New Zealand may well be the highest ranked rugby union team in the world but everybody and their dog knows about their miserable RWC record.
As a result, the All Blacks have been talking up the challenge of Australia all week, pointing out that it was the Wallabies that won the last game between the two teams in August. That was, of course, in Brisbane after the Kiwis had already turned their attention to the World Cup but a win is a win.
Australia, for their part, haven’t won at Eden Park since 1986 (the year before the first-ever World Cup) and the home team haven’t been beaten by any nation there in 17 years.
A team that has lost a game during the tournament has yet to lift the trophy though – suggesting the odds are against Australia – but New Zealand have, incredibly, never beaten their neighbours at the World Cup. Simple really…
Our own victory over Australia showed up many Aussie flaws and demonstrated clearly how to beat the Wallabies – by taking them on relentlessly up front and preventing them from getting quick ball out wide on a constant basis. NZ coach Graham Henry expects his forwards to have a busy day and this encounter is going to be a huge test for a Kiwi pack, considering that their only real competitive game to date was their quarter-final clash with Argentina.
The Wallabies will know what’s coming though and do have David Pocock back. The latter missed that clash with Ireland, was immense against South Africa and will fancy himself to get some change from Richie McCaw on the day.
New Zealand survived the challenge of Argentina primarily thanks to the kicking ability of scrum-half Piri Weepu. The talented and experienced nine has since tried to downplay his contribution but there’s no getting away from the fact that the All Blacks’ latest attempt to add to their tally of one World Cup triumph took a massive dent when fly-half Dan Carter picked up another groin injury was and ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.
Henry has since lost Carter’s obvious replacement – Colin Slade – as well as Mils Muliaina, and there are still significant doubts over how fit captain Richie McCaw, suffering with a foot injury, is.
Sporting karma saw Robbie Deans robbed of the services of full-back Kurtley Beale on Saturday – a man very much in form – and while observers will argue that the All Blacks should have the strength in depth to cope, how many experienced keystones can a squad afford to lose before there are consequences?
On Saturday’s showing, neither New Zealand nor Australia will fear France if they reach the World Cup final.
Les Bleus, as we have seen, are capable of moments of absolute brilliance and have some very special players at their disposal. However, they are equally capable of some abject rugby and could well be slaughtered by any team that are ruthless in their finishing.
On form, supporters have to think that the winners of Sunday’s second last-four clash will go on to claim the silverware and that pressure alone could be telling. The home crowd have shown themselves to be expectant of victory… if Australia start well, they could turn on their own very quickly.
New Zealand: Richie McCaw, Piri Weepu and Israel Dagg
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Quade Cooper and David Pocock