Wallabies great John Eales has identified Australia’s decisive edge over the All Blacks – and New Zealand fans won’t like it one bit.
One of only three players to have twice lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, Eales believes Australia’s outstanding back-row of David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy can blitz the breakdown in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final.
It’s a big call given the defending champions boast arguably the All Blacks’ greatest-ever player, three-times world player of the year Richie McCaw, at openside flanker and will be bent on sending their inspirational skipper out in the ultimate fashion.
But Eales says the Wallabies’ backrow – combined with the team’s blitzing defensive pressure – can be the difference.
“At the start of the tournament, one of the questions we asked was that if Australia are to advance here, we have to be the best in the world at something,” Eales told Fox Sports after Australia’s 29-15 semi-final win over Argentina.
“We are the best in the world at the breakdown, pilfering the ball but also the pressure the guys are putting on.
“The line speed is really good. Michael Cheika has done a wonderful job developing this team.”
Pressed on whether he meant the Wallabies have the measure of the All Blacks back row of Kieran Read, McCaw and Jerome Kaino, Australia’s 1999 World Cup-winning captain was unwavering.
“I think they showed that in Sydney (when the Wallabies beat the All Blacks 27-19),” Eales said.
“When we’ve got this team with this combination on, I think we are and we’ve proven that in a number of games.”
Fellow former Wallabies captain George Gregan pointed out that New Zealand dominated Australia in the Bledisloe Cup decider in Auckland after Cheika opted against using Hooper and Pocock in tandem as he did a week earlier in Sydney.
“That back row has been revealed again at the World Cup,” Gregan said.
“(All Blacks coach) Steve Hansen and his team will be looking at it.
“But it’s one thing, as everyone knows, to look at a team and having to deal with it on the field and the (the Wallabies) are very, very good.
“And don’t forget Scott Fardy as well. He just adds a beautiful balance to that back row.”
Eales and centres Tim Horan and Jason Little are the only three players to have twice tasted World Cup glory.
He and Gregan believe Pocock is the man to lead the Wallabies’ class of 2015 to their holy grail after the champion flanker turned No.8 champion dominated the Pumas despite missing the quarter-final against Scotland with a calf injury.
“It takes a brave man to play that position and it takes an even braver man to play that position as he plays that position,” Eales said of Pocock.
“He just puts his body on the line all the time.
“He’s a very solid citizen at the same time and so they’re the sort of leaders, even though they don’t have the ‘c’ next to their name, they’re the type of leaders you want to build a team around.”
Eales can’t wait for the tournament climax.
“We’ve been waiting since 1987 for this final,” he said.
“It was supposed to happen then and it was supposed to happen another couple of times.
“Now it’s going to happen.”
And he fancies Australia’s chances of winning an unprecedented third World Cup, but first in 16 years.
“They’ve peaked at the right time,” he said.
“This team’s got one song sheet and they’re all singing from it. They’ve been singing from it all year.”