At the start of the World Cup, in any sport, the hope is that you will get to the final and that the two best teams in the world will be going head to head against each other. As previous World Cups have shown this ambition doesn't always come to fruition however it is safe to say in the 2015 Rugby World Cup that goal has been achieved and the ensuing final has the potential to be one of the all time classics.
If you rewind to just under 12 months ago the Wallabies ran out at Twickenham Stadium against the Barbarians and recorded a 40-36 victory. It had been a difficult few months prior and their Head Coach, Michael Cheika, had been in role for just ten days. Before the match Cheika had identified his immediate areas of focus; nailing their identity, refining the Australian way and as a result knowing exactly how they wanted their opponents to perceive them. Their output on the day wasn't perfect however it laid the foundations for the twelve months to come. Since that day Cheika has led the Wallabies astutely and with purpose, he has change policies, sured up their areas of weakness and gained the trust and respect of his players in the process.
New Zealand's road to Saturday's final has been as smooth and consistent as you'd expect from the side that have spent 10 years at the top of the World Rankings. They have recorded just one defeat this season and even that surprised the world. Steve Hansen and his thirteen of his squad taking part in this final have been there and won the competition in 2011 so really the only question is whether the prospect of making history and being the only rugby side ever to win back to back Rugby World Cups get to them?
Everywhere you look on the field the positional match ups are phenomenal and certainly fall in to the 'World Class' category. Heading into the tournament there were question marks over the form of Dan Carter, the All Blacks' master hadn't being hitting the heights expected of him however as the tournament has progressed he has flourished. His opposing ten, Bernard Foley, cannot yet be classed in the same category however this tournament he has made the Wallabies' fly half jersey his own to devastating effect, just ask England fans. Neither have been brilliant percentage wise off the tee with Carter slotting 27 from 34 and Foley 23 from 29 (79% each) however it is Carter's innate rugby brain and experience provides him the edge.
Regardless of Saturday night's result one of the stories of this tournament will be the effectiveness and brilliance of Australia's back row forwards. Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper and David Pocock have reached the heights of the Richard Hill, Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio output and there will be some that argue they surpass the trio that England fans call 'The Holy Trinity'. All three have played their part however it is the story of David Pocock that is astounding for how can a man be as brilliant as he always was after two knee reconstructions? The double threat for turnover ball must be contained by the All Blacks and that will be down to the work of Jerome Kaino and the ever green Richie McCaw. History points to Pocock and Hooper enjoying themselves again on Saturday night however the All Blacks hardly ever make the same mistake twice do they?
There are so many other enthralling clashes, outside the youngsters Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder versus the experienced Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper, in the centres Ma'a Nonu and Matt Giteau dulling and of course the scrummaging battle, will Scott Sio be fully fit after his injury? The spotlight on both Head Coaches will be great, selection has followed suit with little to no changes from their winning semi-final formulae however how they both play their benches could win or lose them the match.
In the 28 years since the first Rugby World Cup Final no side has ever won three tournaments, this weekend one will, and of course New Zealand could become the first team to ever win back to back Rugby World Cups. There are so many sub plots and emotional elements to this final with true greats of the game likely to be making their last outings in their respective International jerseys however this is finals footy and there is no room for sentiment. My hope is that both sides will put everything on the park and do not tighten up due to the magnitude of the occasion. Both house World Class individuals and the prospect of watching the very best in the world push each other to their limits is tantalising.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (C), 1 Scott Sio. Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (C), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams