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Rugby World Cup Final: Australia out to bash New Zealand with help of Scott Sio

By Chris Hewitt

Two months ago, a Wallaby injury bulletin on the stellar full-back Israel Folau and his fragile ankle would have generated just a little more interest than an update on the loose-head prop Scott Sio and his dodgy elbow - not just among Australians at large, but in Sio's own front room. This close to a World Cup final against New Zealand, things are just a little different.

The Wallabies know that to stand an earthly of denying the All Blacks at Twickenham tomorrow, they will have to stack up in the scrum.

Hence the importance of Sio's return to the front row, six days after missing the semi-final victory over Argentina - a game in which the Australian set piece found itself in all manner of strife.

"Scott has been training fully, he's eager to play and it's good to have him back," said Michael Cheika, the head coach, who otherwise stayed with the players who started against the Pumas.

"We've had a strong focus this week on improving certain areas of our game where we feel we haven't been at our best in previous matches.

"Is Scott fit? Is there a risk in picking him? You can't hide in the position he plays. You have to get out there and get into it. He's fine."

Sio's return in place of James Slipper, who spent much of the semi-final on the wrong end of the referee's whistle, is a significant bonus for the Australians.

While Cheika might have rested easy in his bed if Folau had failed to pass muster - the former rugby league and Australian Rules player has been less captivating than usual over the course of this tournament, so the coach must have been tempted to run the brilliant Kurtley Beale in his place - the loss of Sio would have wrecked his peace of mind.

Every side with title pretensions needs a loose head worthy of the name, and the 23-year-old Brumbies player is far and away the number one No 1 in this Wallaby group.

Cheika was his usual talkative self yesterday, but he refused to rise to anything that looked like New Zealand bait.

For instance, rumours that he had made it a matter of policy to avoid using the words "All" and "Blacks" when discussing his opponents were swiftly rejected as so much stuff and nonsense.

"It's a funny thing," he said. "If you notice, I don't refer to the Australian team as 'Wallabies', either.

"I'm a bit old-fashioned in seeing Test rugby as a battle between nations. Australia is Australia, New Zealand is New Zealand, France is France.

"I guess the people who are trying to make an issue out of this have too much time on their hands."

Interestingly, the coach was as keen to distance himself from complimentary comments as he was to dismiss those of the more mischievous variety.

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Bob Dwyer, the first Wallaby boss to guide Australia to a world title way back in 1991, has been so taken with the current team's enthusiastic commitment to life on the barricades that he described them as the "best defensive team in the history of the game".

Yet if Dwyer's view was sincerely held, Cheika refused to enter into the spirit of it.

"I'm not into that," he said. "Bob's done it all, he's very well respected in Australia and he's a friend to this team, but I'm not into the big sweeping statements.

"I'm a believer that your next game is the one that proves who you are. The minute you start relying on cliches or tags or titles, you'll get pinched. It's happened too many times.

"All those comparisons… I don't know anything about that stuff.

"All I know is that the match ahead of you is the thing that should drive standards. That's the point about rugby - it's why people love it so much. You can play great one week, but if you don't turn up the next time you'll be smashed."

The assumption that the Wallabies will be the ones feeling the pressure tomorrow - that the All Blacks, with their vast experience and their intimidating aura, will control the emotional contours of the match - did not cut much ice with the Australian, whose own impressively sanguine approach over the last few testing weeks has been very much at odds with his reputation for combustibility.

"People like to talk about this whole pressure thing, but for me and these players, we just love the game," he said.

"If rugby was still amateur, everyone would still be involved. The only time you feel pressure is if you haven't prepared as best you can."

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