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22:31 30 October 2015

Rugby: World Cup final has something for everyone, even Japanese fans

By Rich Freeman
LONDON, Oct. 30, Kyodo

The 2015 Rugby World Cup final has something for everyone.

For the rugby purist, it is a match-up between the two best sides in the world -- New Zealand and Australia -- played at arguably the greatest rugby stadium in the world -- Twickenham -- with the world's best referee, Nigel Owens, in charge.

For the sentimentalist, it is a chance to bid farewell to a number of the greatest players the game has ever seen, as the All Blacks bid adieu to a number of veterans.

For fans from the Northern Hemisphere -- especially hosts England -- its's an opportunity to see how the game has evolved from a power-based game to one where skill rules supreme.

And for Japanese fans, it is a chance to celebrate the involvement of a number of former and soon-to-be Top League players and coaches.

"You don't get better than a World Cup final," said All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. "We left home eight weeks ago with the goal of getting into this game. Twickenham is a helluva place to play. That is why you are rugby players, to play this game."

Australia prop Scott Sio, the only change made to either side from the semifinals, was delighted to have recovered from injury.

"I call the World Cup the Olympics of rugby. To be there at the pinnacle, at the end, is amazing."

New Zealand come into the game that will decide the sport's first three-time world champion as favorites, despite the two teams sharing the spoils in their two previous encounters this year.

Hailed by many as the greatest team ever, the reigning champions have lost just three times in 53 games since McCaw last lifted the Webb Ellis Cup.

But they are up against a side that knows how to beat the men in black, and whose defense has helped them through a much tougher route to the final.

"Both teams have arrived at the final by different pathways," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. "We've had the luxury of building game by game throughout the whole tournament, whilst Australia have had to be at their very best right from day one."

Australia coach Michael Cheika, however, wasn't one for dwelling on the past.

"They always say if you look backwards, you'll always get a sore neck," he said Friday after his team's captain's run. "It's true (Australia beat New Zealand earlier this year) but it means nothing other than a few tactical things. It's all about what happens on the next day and the 80 minutes on the field. We'll be ready to play out to the maximum of our potential and see how the cards fall."

McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and Keven Mealamu are all rumored to be playing their last games for the All Blacks and they will be hoping to go out in style, particularly Carter, who missed the 2011 final through injury.

"There has been no talk (on this being the last game). That is the last thing anybody wants. It is about the team performing. It is not about individuals," said McCaw, who said he will ponder his own future once he returns to New Zealand.

Australia wing Drew Mitchell admitted the quintet had had a huge impact on world rugby but said that would not affect his team's preparations.

"We will give them due respect but at the same time go out and apply pressure," he said. "We will shake hands for what they have achieved after the game but there will be none of that before the game."

With so much class on the field, and the sides very evenly matched, the game could be decided by two Japan old boys.

While David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Kieran Read and McCaw are often winning the plaudits for their role at the breakdown, it is the unseen work of Scott Fardy (formerly with Kamaishi Seawaves) and Jerome Kaino (Toyota Verblitz) that lays the foundation for the All Blacks' success.

Kaino's destructive tackling had much to do with France being totally destroyed the quarterfinals, while Fardy did much the same to the Argentines in the semifinal.

The pair are joined by a number of other stalwarts and soon-to-be stars of Japanese rugby.

Ricoh Black Rams are represented by old boys Australia assistant coach Steve Larkham and Nonu, with Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley set to join the club after the tournament.

Larkham's fellow assistant coach Nathan Grey spent a number of years with Kyuden Voltex, while fullback Israel Folau will link up with NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in November.

Also heading north is Ben McCalman, who will join Panasonic Wild Knights.

The All Blacks coaching staff is also well versed in Japanese rugby with skills coach Mick Byrne part of John Kirwan's Japan coaching staff at RWC 2011, while scrum coach Mike Cron has spent over a decade helping Japanese clubs, most notably Panasonic.

The Wallabies have never lost a World Cup in the United Kingdom, the All Blacks have never won a tournament outside New Zealand, and it is expected to be a classic.

"We know it will be extremely physical," said Cheika. "It's their modus operandi. But I love that style and I want us to bring physicality to the game too."

As Hansen said: "Mental fortitude and physical endurance, together with skill, execution and sheer desire, will be the key ingredients come Saturday."




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