LONDON –– New Zealand are aiming to become the first team ever to retain the Rugby World Cup when they meet Australia in tomorrow’s sell-out Twickenham final.
More than 80,000 fans will see the All Blacks start as favourites, having lost only three games out of 53 since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 2011.
It will be the first time the All Blacks and Australia –– the world’s top-ranked sides –– have met in the final.
Both are double winners but no country has won the tournament three times.
The build-up to the final has seen both nations throw their weight behind their quest for victory, with the Sydney Opera House illuminated in green and gold and the slogan “Go Wallabies”.
The two countries’ national airlines have also agreed a wager that their crews will wear opposing rugby jerseys on Monday should their team lose.
Welshman Nigel Owens will referee the match, while the 16:00 GMT kick-off is in the early hours of Sunday for the audience across Australia and New Zealand.
The eighth Rugby World Cup has been dominated by the southern hemisphere over its six weeks, with Argentina and South Africa knocked out in the semi-finals, while hosts England failed to progress from the group stage.
Australia coach Michael Cheika, who took over a struggling side 12 months ago and has turned them into World Cup finalists, laughed off media suggestions today that his players are banned from saying the phrase “All Blacks” in an effort to remove some of the mystique around their opponents.
Defusing some of the tension in the build-up to the game, he reeled off the name and jokingly grabbed his throat, exclaiming: “Can I say All Blacks now for you? Right. OK. [making a strangled noise] Poltergeist!
“It’s pretty funny because if you notice, I never call Australia the Wallabies either. I’m really a bit old-fashioned in that way,” added Cheika, who led Australia to their first win over New Zealand in four years as they won the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship in August.
That was their only win in the past 12 games against the All Blacks, although there have also been two draws in that time.
All Black fly-half Dan Carter, the leading points scorer in Test history, missed New Zealand’s 2011 triumph because of injury, and he admitted the thought of the 2015 final has been driving him on.
“Straight after missing the 2011 final I was pretty devastated,” he said. “The reason I signed a new four-year deal was the chance of playing in a World Cup –– that’s what’s been driving me.
“It will be a fantastic occasion, with both teams prepared to die for cause. What’s happened in the past is irrelevant. Obviously it’s a huge occasion but I’m just focusing on what I can do for this team.”
McCaw will extend his record for the most Test caps to 148 and team-mates Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith will play their 62nd Test as a centre partnership, another record.
Team-mate Carter will seek to add to his record points in Test rugby, which currently stands at 1,579.
New Zealand winger Julian Savea will hope to break the record for the most tries scored in a World Cup. He is currently level with compatriot Jonah Lomu and South Africa’s Bryan Habana on eight.
Australia winger Drew Mitchell, who has scored 14 tries in World Cup history, is one short of the record held by Lomu and Habana.
New Zealand and Australia are both going for a history-making third win. South Africa have won the tournament twice, while England –– champions in 2003 –– are the only other side to have won the tournament since it was first held in 1987.