New Zealand pundits have lavished praise on Michael Cheika’s revitalised Wallabies but say the All Blacks remain favourites to win Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final.
Commentators said the two best teams in the tournament would contest the decider at Twickenham after Australia defeated Argentina 29-15 in their semi-final to set up a trans-Tasman clash.
“The final will be a better contest for Australia’s presence,” the New Zealand Herald’s Chris Rattue wrote, while Fairfax NZ’s Liam Napier declared it: “A fitting finale.”
“From the outset of the eighth Rugby World Cup the All Blacks and Wallabies have been the two best teams — it’s only right, then, the trans-Tasman neighbours will contest their first final,” Napier added.
“On and off the field, there’s no love lost between New Zealand and Australia. That intense rivalry only adds spice to what promises to be an epic conclusion to a memorable event.”
While acknowledging the threat from a Wallabies outfit markedly improved since Cheika was appointed coach last year, there was confidence the experienced New Zealanders would prevail.
“The All Blacks are ready to pounce on the mouse which is roaring,” Rattue said.
“Street fighter coach Michael Cheika has revived Australia, but the tournament was always going to stretch their power resources to breaking point.”
Napier said New Zealand would fancy their chances of unsettling a Wallabies scrum which looked vulnerable against Argentina without prop Scott Sio.
“Sio’s replacement was pinged three times by referee Wayne Barnes,” he said. “That equates to a major problem for Cheika, who will also be worried by defensive errors and ill discipline.”
Other factors cited in New Zealand’s favour were the extra day they will have to recover before the final and their recent dominance over the Wallabies.
They have met 11 times since the All Blacks beat Australia in the 2011 World Cup semi-final, with the Wallabies managing only one win and two draws.
TVNZ’s David Agnew said the All Blacks also had the powerful emotional incentive of wanting to send out veterans Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu on a high.
“There’s some emotional petrol to be used up,” he said.
“The end of the most successful All Blacks era ever is just waiting for the candles to be lit and it’ll be some swansong statement from some of the best the game will ever see.”
New Zealand scribes warned the main danger facing the All Blacks was Australian flanker David Pocock, who has been in scintillating form and is capable of single-handedly inspiring his team to victory.
“The All Blacks are zooming in for the Cup. Pocock is the key man who can release that grip,” Rattue wrote.