31 Oct 2015

Bluffer's guide: one Final time

7:43 am on 31 October 2015

Megan Whelan - @meganjwhelan

Just think - one more sleep and it's all over, bar the celebrations - or commiserations - depending how tomorrow's game goes.

Will the World Cup final be Richie McCaw's last time leading the All Blacks haka?

Will the World Cup final be Richie McCaw's last time leading the All Blacks haka? Photo: Photosport

With that in mind, let's look back to how we got here. Back in the 1830s, football players at the Rugby School in England started picking up the ball and running with it.

Okay, no. Let's not go that far back. Let's just go back to 2012, when the draw was made.

The draw saw a representative randomly draw a ball from a pot, the first drawn ball goes to Pool A, the second Pool B, the third Pool C and the fourth Pool D, according to Wikipedia.

The draw began with Pot 5, drawn by All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, followed by Pot 4, drawn by RWC 2015 Ambassador Maggie Alphonsi, then Pot 3, drawn by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Pot 2, drawn by the then-Chief Executive for RWC 2015 Debbie Jevans, and finally Pot 1, drawn by IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset.

Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland.

Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Doing it that long ago has copped some criticism, given how different the world rankings were then to now. After England were knocked out of the final rounds - having lost too many games in the so-called 'Pool of Death', Wales coach Warren Gatland (a Kiwi) had a bit of a hissy fit, pointing out Fiji could have made the quarter-finals as well.

"Everyone is making a thing about the first home country to hold a World Cup to miss out on the quarter-finals, but the stupid thing, as we all know, is why was the World Cup draw done three years ago?

"That's just ridiculous as far as I am concerned. If they had followed the football model, then we wouldn't be in this position."

Wallabies Tevita Kuridrani and Adam Ashley-Cooper during the Rugby World Cup semi-final win over the Pumas at Twickenham, London, England. Sunday 25 October 2015. Copyright Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz

Wallabies Tevita Kuridrani and Adam Ashley-Cooper Photo: Photosport

The Wallabies came out of the pool on top, having gone unbeaten in the first four rounds. They beat Scotland in the quarter-final, but a 78th-minute penalty - which the bosses have admitted was wrong - handed them the game.

On the Australian side of the all-southern-hemisphere semi-finals, Australia beat Argentina relatively easily.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika Photo: Photosport

This week, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has been giving a masterclass in gamesmanship, talking up his team as underdogs and saying he's too "old fashioned" to use the moniker "All Blacks" instead of New Zealand.

Righto. Meanwhile, Wallabies loose forward (or 'loosie' - they're the ones that go on the side of the scrum, and do a lot of tackling) David Pocock has been doing his best to replace our Richie in the public's heart, taking a swipe at former Aussie PM Tony Abbott, and making the UK papers infer he's more worried about climate change than he is about the All Blacks.

So much has been said about the Australia-New Zealand rivalry, that we don't need to go into it again.

But it's worth remembering that in the most recent World Cup semi-final, New Zealand beat Australia 20-6 (sorry). Then again, they have a 2-1 edge over us on that particular stat.

All Black Richard Kahui tackles Wallaby Quade Cooper.

All Black Richard Kahui tackles Wallaby Quade Cooper. Photo: Supplied

In this tournament, the All Blacks have been patchy, though it's often hard to tell if that's true, or if it's the cry of an overly-critical rugby nation.

They beat Argentina 26-16, in what could be described as a pretty shaky opening match, with Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith both sin-binned.

It was a little easier over Namibia, 58-14, and Georgia, 43-10. Then came Tonga, and the stand-in-captain, Keiran Read's sinbinning, and fans were starting to worry that this All Black side just wasn't good enough.

Allez les Bleus, though.

Against France, the All Blacks showed everything they'd been holding back in pool play, winning 62-13.

"So areas of concern? Well not too many," wrote RNZ's Barry Guy - "in fact I don't think they need to be mentioned because - as I said earlier - let's enjoy this performance and be happy that the All Blacks are still alive for another week."

It was a spectacular 80 minutes of rugby, so against the Springboks in the semi-final, hopes were high. Although so were nerves. The game was much messier, less fun to watch, and so close at least one RNZ live-blogger had to employ ALL CAPS commentary.

At 20-18, it shouldn't have been that close, wrote our Guy - and penalties almost cost them the match. They got there in the end though.

"Experience counts for so much, and though many felt that there were a few players in this All Blacks squad that were perhaps getting past it, it doesn't appear to be the case."

So what will happen this weekend? Well, a bunch of players are bowing out after this game, so if you want to impress rugby fans drop those names, and lament their loss to the team. A lot of the younger players, even though they probably won't say it, will be playing for their captain (who hasn't confirmed he's leaving) and the other five who are going.

It will be close, and a lot depends on which All Blacks side shows up - the one that played France, or the one that played South Africa: the captains being put in the sin-bin because of a lack of discipline, or the skills and intelligent play that they showed against France.

There's so much history between these two teams, and yet, this is the first time they've met in the Rugby World Cup final. Whichever side wins will be the first country to win it three times, and if it's the All Blacks, they'll be the first to win it back-to-back.

Whatever happens, if you're not a fan, it's over. If you are a fan, here's hoping it doesn't look like this.

An animated gif of former Australian captain George Gregan taunting the 2003 All Blacks with the comment ""four more years".

Former Australian captain George Gregan taunting the 2003 All Blacks with the comment ""four more years". Photo: Supplied

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