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Rugby World Cup: Superpowers will square up for the top trophy

By Jonathan Bradley

And so, after 46 games and five weeks, we are left with only two.

After decades of competing for the Bledisloe Cup, New Zealand and Australia will meet at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon with the Webb Ellis trophy on the line for the first time.

Often not the case at World Cups, there is real feeling too that we will be watching the two best teams in the game when the Southern Hemisphere powers collide.

The All Blacks, bidding for history on two counts as they look to become both the first side to win the tournament for a third time and the only one to claim back-to-back successes, have shown flashes of their brilliant best, most notably in demolishing an abject France side in the last eight.

But there remains a sense that they have yet to put it all together in the way they were doing with such routine regularity two years ago.

The end of an era for Steve Hansen's men on Saturday, win or lose the final, it will be the last we see of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith on the Test stage.

Having seen off the Springboks on Saturday, regardless of one's feeling towards Carter and McCaw - the dominant forces of their generation even if neither can claim to be the players of old - it would take a brave man to bet against them going out in style.

Australia, who of course came within a controversial refereeing decision of getting knocked out at the quarter-final stage, have already beaten England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland's conquerors Argentina in successive weekends but it is a win back in August from which they will take most heart.

Having not beaten their old rivals from across the Tasman Sea since 2011, a late comeback during the summer sealed a 27-19 win over New Zealand.

That day in Sydney, twin openside flankers David Pocock and Michael Hooper started a Test together for the first time as the returning Matt Giteau was deployed between Bernard Foley and Tevita Kuridrani in the 10-12-13 axis.

The combinations, having ended a ten-game losing streak against the All Blacks, were then kept firmly under wraps until unleashed upon the World Cup.

Pocock, surely only an injury-free run away from a real claim to being the world's best player, was a huge reason for the Wallabies racking up double digits in turnovers yesterday, even if partner-in-crime Hooper had a quieter than usual day on the deck.

Both their defence and, perhaps most surprisingly, scrum, have been bedrocks of their success at this tournament.

The set-piece, so expertly coached by former Pumas hooker Mario Ledesma, was not quite as solid yesterday but they had enough to negate an Argentina squad who have once again been the darlings of the tournament.

A side that have been wholly revitalised through the work of Michael Cheika over the last 12 months, can the former Leinster boss add the World Cup to a CV that already contains a Rugby Championship, Heineken Cup and Super Rugby title?

If the Australian coach can, rest assured it will have been earned the hard way.

Belfast Telegraph

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