Date: 23rd October 2011
Time: 9:00pm NZT/9:00am BST
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Officials: Craig Joubert (SA) Allain Rolland (IRE) Nigel Owens (WAL) Guilio de Santis (ITA)
Well all of the “will they choke, won’t they choke”, is the pressure too much for the host nation, how will they cope without Dan Carter has come down to this. A repeat of the pool game dubbed ‘le choke’. This is the All Blacks’ first final since 1995, and whilst they have triumphed over France in the pool stages, it is in the knock out encounters where France have the upper hand. There is only one change to the team that played against Australia, and that change comes in on the bench, the starting XV remains the same. Highlanders’ flanker Adam Thomson takes the 19 jersey from Victor Vito. This is an experienced and determined side, and excitement is high in the camp.
It’s been as unpredictable a tournament from France as we should have expected in terms of results. Losses to New Zealand and Tonga in the group stages left them at rock bottom, and yet here they are, in the final. 40 brilliant minutes against England, and maybe about 10 against Wales have proved enough to send Les Bleus through into their first final since 1999. Morgan Parra continues to be played out of position at 10, whilst France have a world class back row in Dusautoir, Bonnaire and Harinordoquy. They must keep their defence tight and disciplined, as well inducing the power of the All Blacks early on.
What To Expect:
New Zealand are going to roll out the power play from the whistle as they did to such great effect against Australia. With France apparently ready for a ‘siege’ we can expect a game of relentless attack. Given what is at stake, I would hope that the French put up a real resistance, something that they really did not do in the last game between these two. Expect tit for tat rugby, with moments of genius.
All Eyes On:
Sam Whitelock a key part of the All Black line out, Whitelock faces stiff competition from Lionel Nallet on the French side. Given the nature of the game the set pieces will be a big part of gaining the upper hand, and with a man like Whitelock a crucial part of it, you can expect it to be a real physical display.
He may have walked out of a press conference this week, but Aurélien Rougerie will be as focused as anyone come Sunday morning. France’s leader in the midfield, Rougerie is also their best strike runner, and must get over the gain line to give France the best attacking platform possible.
Head to Head: Piri Weepu vs. Dimitri Yachvili
Shortlisted for the IRB Player of the Year, Piri Weepu has shone in this competition. An influential player, he has excellent control over the game, and a real ability with kicking. Recent games have seen him working incredibly hard, almost protecting the younger fly half Aaron Cruden, something that his counterpart does not have to do. Weepu started this competition as a back up for Jimmy Cowan, and is now practically a national hero. He has less experience than Yachvilli, but only just, Yachvilli does trump Weepu in points scored however.
The pool stage game, back on the 24th September, New Zealand dominated the game and came away with a 20 point win. New Zealand 37 – 17 France.
Fine spells, with a south-westerly breeze. 13°
Christine: In World Cup history these teams have met 5 times; the first encounter coming in the 1987 final, where New Zealand came away the victors. Since then the sides have had 2 wins each. For the hosts the pressure is on, and the French will be looking, no doubt, to silence their many critics. France will be forceful and spirited, but the All Blacks will ultimately dominate. However if anyone were going to upset the All Blacks, it was always going to be the French. New Zealand by 12.
Ben: Part of me would just love for France to come from nowhere and snatch this. Never has a team been more unfancied going into a World Cup final. The psychological damage of the 20 point defeat in the pool stages though may prove to the significant factor. On top of that, if New Zealand play with the same level of intensity as they did last week against the Wallabies, then France will have no chance. New Zealand by 10.
by Christine Lester and Ben Coles