Forty-six players will hold the hopes and dreams of Antipodeans tomorrow for the first World Cup final contested between New Zealand and Australia
The All Blacks and the Wallabies will contest their first World Cup final ever tomorrow at Twickenham. For those of you who haven’t been following their progress closely, he’s a guide to the men who will be looking to lift the Webb Ellis Cup around 6pm tomorrow evening…
Ben Smith (Age 29. Caps 47)
Looks like your average boy next door until he step inside the four tramlines. Fleet of foot and rock solid under the high ball, Smith can switch from 15 to the flanks with ease and has the second most carries (65) in the tournament.
Julian Savea (Age25. Caps 40)
‘Nobody stops the ‘bus’. The French backline can attest to Savea’s freakish strength but the man with 38 tries in 40 Test can also play footie. The tournament’s top try-scorer with eight, give him space at your folly.
Conrad Smith (Age 34. Caps 93)
The thinking man’s centre, Conrad Smith has oiled the wheels of the All Black backline for a decade, where his speed of thought and guile make up for advancing years. Rarely caught out defensively.
Ma’ Nonu Age caps (Age 33. Caps 102)
Were it not for a greasy ball, Nonu would have scored one of the tries of the tournament against Les Bleus. Nonu may have a power-packed frame but his unselfish offload to Barrett showed his maturity. Sits comfortably as one of the midfeld greats.
Nehe Milner-Skudder (Age 24. Caps 7)
The boy from Palmerston North, who dallied with rugby league, has been one of the stars of the tournament. A killer step enhanced by an astute kicking game and a varied range of passing from both sides set Milner-Skudder apart as a future superstar.
Dan Carter (Age 33. Caps 111)
Carter has nothing left to win in the game, save a World Cup final. With 1579 points, he’s the world’s leading points scorer and his offload against France and pressure-releasing drop-goal against the Springboks show his enduring value to the All Blacks.
Aaron Smith (Age 26. Caps 46)
The world’s best scrum-half has been muted by his elevated standards in his last few games, but his will-to-win and ability to change the game with a snipe around the fringes or cute offload mean he will be given extra attention by ‘Pooper’.
Kieran Read (Age 30. Caps 83)
Another who has put his body through the mill for the All Blacks, Read will be earning his 84th cap and he boasts an all-round skill-set that sees him viewed as the best all-round No 8 in world rugby. In the tournament’s top three for breaking the gainline.
Richie McCaw (Age 34. Caps 148 )
Winning his record 149th and probably final cap, McCaw’s ability to rile supporters simply by taking to the field mark him out as one of the most influential players ever to play the game. Will need all his celebrated powers to nullify David Pocock and Michael Hooper
Jerome Kaino (Age 32. Caps 66)
The less celebrated member of All Black backrow, Kaino is happy working in the shadows, but tries again France and South Africa show his importance to the unit’s balance. Seems to thrive at World Cups.
Sam Whitelock (Age 27. Caps 72)
One hirsute half of the All Black engine room, Whitelock’s work ethic, ability to hit rucks endlessly and do the basics at the set-piece see him as the perfect foil to Retallick
Brodie Retallick (Age 24. Caps 46)
Reigning World Player of the Year, Retallick is viewed by man as the best lock in the world. At 6ft 9in, he is a prodigiously gifted athlete and has a work rate that sees him making eye-catching carries in the loos, as well as the ugly stuff in the unseen areas.
Owen Franks (Age 27. Caps 77)
Lost his partner-in-crime Tony Woodcock early in the tournament and has taken on extra responsibility at the coal-face with aplomb. Nothing flashy, Franks simply does the basics.
Dane Coles (Age 28. Caps 35)
Emerged in the last 18 months from the shadow of Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu to make the No 2 shirt his own. Hits his jumpers, adds ballast in the scrum and prone to spectacular long-range tries. Loves hanging out on the wing.
Joe Moody (Age 27. Caps 10)
Harsh to say he’s this tournament’s Stephen Donald, but Moody is third choice loosehead on the rank and he’s not been exposed once. Even showcase some lesser known skills with an offload to put Kerr-Barlow away for a try against the French.
Keven Mealamu (Age 36. Caps 131)
Rated by John Smit as the hardest man he ever faced, what Mealamu lacks in stature he makes up in courage and huge experience. A leader in the All Black squad.
Ben Franks (Age 31. Caps 46)
London Irish bound after the tournament, Franks may get to win a World Cup playing alongside his brother, in the absence of Wyatt Crockett. How special would that be?
Charlie Faumuina (Age 28. Caps 32)
At 19st and sporting a fearsome beard, Faumuina certainly stands out and his muscular carries in the tight spaces will tire Wallaby defensive resistance late on
Victor Vito (Age 28. Caps 32)
Blessed with more pace than Liam Messam or even Jerome Kaino in the wide channels, the Hurricanes backrow has proved a reliable option from the bench this tournament.
Sam Cane (Age 23. Caps 30)
The heir to Richie McCaw – no pressure, Sam – Cane captained the side against Namibia, and possesses the cool detachment to get the job done and tread the tightrope of the law book like any good openside.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Age 25. Caps 19)
Kerr-Barlow seems to have usurped TJ Perenara as stand-in for Aaron Smith, and he proved his offensive skills with two tries in three minutes after coming on against France
Sonny Bill Williams (Age 30. Caps 32)
Sonny Bill has provided the box-office offloads during the tournament, but also showed his maturity in doing it at the right time. The sight of him sauntering on after 55 minutes will dispirit all but the most resilient defences.
Beauden Barrett (Age 24. Caps 35)
Wickedly gifted utility-back who plays 10 but is quick enough to play on the wing. Scored valuable try against the Boks and will be backed to create some magic off the bench
Israel Folau (Age 26. Caps 37)
Folau has been nursing by ankle injury during the tournament, which appears to have curtailed his usual rapier breaks in the broken field. Still one of the best operators in the air. Wallabies will hope he comes good for the final.
Adam Ashley Cooper (Age 31. Caps 113)
The most capped Wallaby back of all time, Ashley-Cooper’s hat-trick against Argentina and try against Scotland have been vital. Almost as important, was his spot-tackle on Dan Biggar when the Wallabies were under siege against Wales.
Tevita Kuridrani (Age 24. Caps 30)
Quietly spoken, but the 6ft 3in, 16st outside-centre has certainly makes his presence felt on the field. His upper-body strength allowed him to break a Tommy Seymour tackle against Scotland and put Ashley-Cooper away before wrestling over for a try of his own.
Matt Giteau (Age 33. Caps 101)
Six months ago, he’s was sunning himself in the South of France, now he a Test centurion with the chance of a World Cup winners medal. It’s quite a story. Important second-receiver for Wallabies, his looped pass to Ashley-Cooper was sublime.
Bernard Foley (Age 26. Caps 26)
A once-in-a-lifetime performance against England was offset by an error-strewn game against Scotland with an intercept and poor kicking game. Still in credit, however and has nailed pressure kicks.
Will Genia (Age 27. Caps 65)
Another who’s star has dimmed after a poor Super Rugby season, Genia has done the basics but lacked the individual brilliance last seen against the Lions in 2013. In the side due to a lack of better options.
David Pocock (Age 27. Caps 54)
Pocock has had two knee-reconstructions in between World Cups. This year, playing in an unfamiliar No 8 role, he’s still been the tournament’s top breakdown gatherer with 14. No-one else has registered in double-figures. A titan.
Michael Hooper (Age 23. Caps 50)
The laid-back 23-year-old with the surfer locks, has already amassed 50 caps in a shorter timeframe than any other Test player. Hooper is whirling-dervish around the field, and pound for pound, no player punches harder in defence.
Scott Fardy (Age 31. Caps 29)
The unglamorous member of the Wallaby backrow, Fardy has bled for the cause, and does the unshowy, unseen work at the breakdown and tackle area. Worth his weight in green and gold, however. Immense against Argentina in the semis.
Rob Simmons (Age 26. Caps 59)
Will be remembered for haring towards the Pumas tryline in open space after an errant Nicolas Sanchez pass but Simmons has been a go-to man in the Wallaby lineout. Hugely experienced for someone so young.
Kane Douglas (Age 26. Caps 22)
Another member of the rag-bag Wallabies, who descended for all corners of the globe for this World Cup caper. Douglas left Leinster abruptly and has played a key part in Australia’s march to the final
Sekope Kepu (Age 29. Caps 62)
Had his card marked by the All Blacks with his opportunistic try against them in The Rugby Championship earlier this year, Kepu has been fundamental to Australia’s ‘bajada’ which roughly translated, means eight-man shove.
Stephen Moore (Age 32. Caps 101)
Australia’s captain and Test centurion, he’s led the side with maturity, hit his jumpers and provided a sense of calm when Australia were in tight spots, against Wales and Scotland.
Scott Sio (Age 24. Caps 15)
Arguably the Wallabies most important player, after the scrum wobbled with Slipper against the Pumas, loosehead Sio has been passed fit and his influence could be the difference for the Wallabies
Tatafu Polota-Nau (Age 30. Caps 60)
Polota-Nau has acted as the perfect impact player for the Wallabies, using his 18st frame to punch holes in tiring defences.
James Slipper (Age 26. Caps 73)
Struggled badly against the Argentinian front-row, Slipper is more renowned for his tireless workrate around the paddock than for destroying opposition tightheads
Greg Holmes (Age 32. Caps 23)
Vastly experienced Queensland Red who can cover both sides of the scrum. He returned to the Wallaby squad after an eight-year absence earlier this year.
Dean Mumm (Age 31. Caps 43)
The likeable lock made a huge impression at Exeter Chiefs before leaving to pursue a World Cup dream. An athletic presence at the set-piece and in the loose.
Ben McCalman (Age 27. Caps 46)
McCalman can play anywhere in the back five and he has provided useful backup to Fardy, Pocock and Hooper. Made some key tackles against Wales to prevent them from scoring in the Pool stages.
Nick Phipps (Age 26. Caps 38)
Tidy service and a threat around the fringes, Phipps has come on in every game of the tournament, replacing Genia
Matt Tomuaa (Age 25. Caps 30)
Gifted second receiver, Tomuaa has many backers for his intelligent lines of running and skills as a distributor. Kept out of the side by Matt Giteau
Kurtley Beale (Age 26. Caps 59)
When Rob Horne was injured early on against England, Beale replaced him and played a key role in sending the host out of the competition, dovetailing with Foley for a superb try. Hugely talented and able to play anywhere in the backline except scrum-half.