Rugby Union

5 key battles that will decide the Rugby World Cup final

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Scott Sio v Owen Franks

Sio is expected to return from the elbow injury that sidelined him against Argentina, and coach Michael Chieka will be praying the loose-head recaptures his form from the group stage. Sio’s replacement last week, James Slipper, struggled under severe pressure from the Argentinean scrum, whilst he himself had problems against Scotland - conceding three penalties in the scrum. New Zealand view the scrum as an opportunity to suck in defenders and restart play, but the experienced Franks will still seek to gain parity at the set-piece.

David Pocock v Richie McCaw

Though this isn’t a direct match-up in position, Pocock and McCaw are both their sides’ best breakdown specialists. The Australian has been the player of the tournament so far, winning 14 turnovers in just four games and re-establishing his credentials as the best fetcher in world rugby, after two serious knee reconstructions.

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will be winning his 148th and final cap on Saturday as he seeks to become the first man to win successive World Cups. Regardless of Saturday’s result, McCaw will go down as the greatest ever All Black and will utilise all his experience to try and match Pocock and Michael Hooper. Saturday’s referee Nigel Owens was lenient on the Crusader during New Zealand’s 62-13 victory over France, and McCaw will seek to push the boundaries again.


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Will Genia v Aaron Smith

Genia’s form has improved as the tournament has progressed, but he is still to recapture the running game that marked him out as such a dangerous player two years ago. Smith’s game meanwhile has gone from strength to strength since his debut in 2012; his delivery is flat and fast while his knack of taking quick tap penalties and his snipping around the fringes makes him a huge danger, as his try against Argentina demonstrates. Genia has hurt the All Blacks before and they will be wary of his threat, whilst the Wallaby back-row will do all they can to disrupt Smith’s rhythm.

Matt Giteau v Ma’a Nonu

Holding 203 test caps between them, Giteau and Nonu stand as the most experienced inside centre's in the game, with both fundamental to their team’s game plan. Giteau’s left foot and distributive skills can control and create in equal measure and are invaluable in easing the pressure off Bernard Foley. Nonu’s primary job is still to provide a platform for New Zealand over the gain line, but the progression in his game in 12 years of test rugby has been remarkable. Whereas once the former Hurricane was somewhat of a crash-ball specialist, Nonu has evolved into an effective kicker and creator, as demonstrated by his footwork and pass to set up Beauden Barrett’s vital try in Saturday’s semi-final against South Africa.

Adam Ashley-Cooper v Julian Savea

Despite his hat-trick on Sunday against Argentina, Ashley-Cooper will be fully aware that his primary job in the final is to contain his opposite man. Savea was kept relatively quiet against South Africa, he is still yet to score against the Springboks in test rugby, but the Wallabies will be wary of the threat the 25-year-old will pose. With a deadly combination of pace and extraordinary power, Savea has scored 38 tries in just 40 test matches and is arguably the best finisher around. Though an adept try-scorer himself, the Waratah now sits third in Australia’s all-time list behind David Campese and Chris Latham, Ashley-Cooper will need to utilise all of his 113 test caps to nullify Savea.

Who is the key player who could decide the World Cup final for either New Zealand or Australia? Give your opinion in the comment box below!

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