RWC Final: Key match-ups

We take a look at the key match-ups across the park that will decide the outcome of the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.

Fittingly, the cross-Tasman rivals are the only two unbeaten teams left in the competition, having emerged from the pool stages and bruising play-offs relatively unscathed.

Full-back: Israel Folau v Ben Smith

I say relatively unscated, as superstar full-back Israel Folau has been a worry for Wallaby coach Michael Cheika since he picked up an ankle injury the pool game against Wales.

While Folau started in the semi-final win over Argentina on Sunday, he hobbled off with 15 minutes to go.
There has been plenty debate around the Waratahs star, who has failed to impress at the World Cup. However, Kurtley Beale, his replacement, has provided plenty go-forward and shown tactical acumen with the boot off the bench.

Beal's form would suggest he deserves a start ahead of the struggling full-back, but coach Cheika appears to be picking class over form.

Folau will line-up against Ben Smith, whose skill under the high ball was in full display during the All Blacks semi-final win over South Africa. Smith enjoys joining the line on attack and as a result he has notched up 453 running metres for the tournament, just one behind leader Santiago Cordero of Argentina.

Fly-half: Bernard Foley v Dan Carter

These are two men at the pinnacle of their powers. Foley, the 'Iceman' of Australian rugby, needed all of his steely resolve to slot a match-winning three pointer against Scotland in the dying embers of the quarter-final.

While his kicking from the tee has not been too flash, Foley's accuracy and distribution on attack more than makes up for it. The pivot has made eight clean breaks and beaten nine defenders.

Meanwhile, Carter will finally be able to realise his childhood dream of playing in a World Cup final. After being knocked out by the French in that unforgettable semi-final of 2007, the mercurial number 10 then tore a tendon in his groin during the All Blacks successful 2011 campaign. 

Carter's running stats for the tournament are nearly identical to Foley, though he has been more consistent off the kicking tee and stabbed over a vital drop kick against the Springboks in the semi-final. 

Both these number 10s can perform in those clutch moments, but only one will be part of the winning team come Saturday night.

The breakdown: David Pocock v Richie McCaw

This is perhaps the most tantalising battle of them all. Pocock has proved immense at the breakdown for the Wallabies and it was fitting that he was absent in the only game they nearly lost against Scotland.

The Zimbabwean-born fetcher is leading the tournament with 14 turnovers, five more than his closest rival. Four of those were affected in the comprehensive semi-final win over Argentina, attesting to his high work rate.

Apart from the turnovers, where McCaw has six, the New Zealand captain has similar stats to his opposite number. Their tackles, carries over the gain line and defenders beaten are all as near as makes no difference. 

However, one could argue that McCaw, who turns 35-years-old in December, looks to be just hanging in there as his team looks to became the first nation to successfully defend the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Doug Mattushek

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