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All Blacks face date with destiny in World Cup Final

Get Carter is Australia's only chance of taking the champions' crown

By Chris Hewett

The Wallabies spent the last three games of this World Cup digging such a filthy great hole for themselves, it was tempting to wonder if they were seeking a route home without going to the expense of a long-haul flight.

The All Blacks? They have lost only three games in the four years since they won the great prize on silver-ferned soil in Auckland.

There, in an Antipodean nutshell, is the most striking difference between today's contenders for the Webb Ellis crown.Any assumption that the New Zealanders have only to find their way to Twickenham to complete a first successful defence of the game's grandest title betrays an ignorance of rugby reality.

The reigning champions are hot favourites - why wouldn't they be, with 26 victories from 33 matches against their nearest and not-so-dearest since mid-2005 - but the Wallabies have enough skill at their disposal, and enough understanding of All Black methodology, to make a fist of it.

And besides, there is precious little history of one-sidedness attached to these occasions.

Leaving aside the inaugural showpiece in 1987, when a New Zealand side of all the talents smashed a weary and under-motivated French team from one end of Eden Park to the other, the average try-count in the final has been 1.166 recurring.

In the last quarter of a century, only the 1999 Wallabies managed more than one crossing of the opposition whitewash when the trophy was at stake.

Steve Hansen, whose performance as head coach of the All Blacks has been every bit as impressive as Brodie Retallick's in the second row or Daniel Carter's at outside-half, has not completely despaired of witnessing a fun-fuelled try-fest.

"Tradition is a great thing, as long as it doesn't get in the way of progress," he said yesterday. "Let's hope for some progress. If the weather is kind, I think we'll see some running rugby."

But two of Hansen's longest-serving forwards, the captain Richie McCaw and the No 8 Kieran Read, cast the final in a darker light.

"I don't think I really care how the game is won, as long as we win it," said McCaw. "We have two teams who like to use the ball, but when the pressure comes on certain things go out of the window.

"You stop making the 50-50 decisions and go for the 100 per centers instead."

Read was blunter still. "It won't be handling that wins it," he said. "It'll be about who's willing to work hardest, who wants it most."

Some of the things the Wallabies want are very well known, thanks to an unfortunate incident during yesterday's eve-of-match gallop across the Twickenham greensward.

A photographer pointed his lens at a piece of paper in the hand of the scrum coach Mario Ledesma and quickly discovered that it contained some bullet-point tactical notes on the best way of getting under Read's skin and the optimum approach to keeping the threatening centre Ma'a Nonu in his box.

When Michael Cheika, the Wallaby boss, appeared for one of his fascinating exercises in public fat-chewing, he was not aware that this information was about to appear on the interweb.

Asked whether his team's victory over New Zealand in Sydney in August might have some sort of bearing on the game ahead, he shrugged.

"It's there, I guess, but it means nothing really," he said.

"If you look backwards, all you get is a sore neck."

It goes without saying that Carter, the man at the centre of the emotional maelstrom surrounding this contest, has spent much of the last four years grappling with those very questions.

"It's a huge occasion, especially after some of the disappointments in the past," he acknowledged. "But it's not about me or about the guys playing their last Tests. It's about this side, the 2015 All Blacks. The exciting thing for me, what motivates me, is playing as well as I possibly can for my colleagues."

If he does that - or rather, if the Wallabies allow him the time and space to go close to doing it - it is hard to imagine the New Zealanders relinquishing their title. Australia's only realistic chance of reclaiming a trophy they last won 16 years ago is to cut off Carter from his forwards and starve him of the front-foot possession he maximises so unerringly.

In other words, the underdogs need David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy to deliver the best back-row performance seen in a World Cup final since Alan Whetton, Michael Jones and Wayne Shelford performed their uncanny impersonation of the holy trinity in 1987.

It will be no easy matter for the Wallaby trio to match the achievement of perhaps the finest All Black back row in history, but the scale of the challenge calls for nothing less.

Belfast Telegraph


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