Rugby World Cup final preview

Rugby World Cup final preview
© PA Photos
A look ahead to the 2011 Rugby World Cup final between France and New Zealand.

It's nearly here. After 43 days, 47 matches, 256 tries, 2191 points and that red card, the 2011 Rugby World Cup is almost over for another four years.

In a repeat of the very first Rugby World Cup final in 1987, New Zealand and France will battle it out for the Webb Ellis trophy. In that match, the All Blacks comfortably beat Les Bleus 29-9 to win their first and only World Cup title.

A lot has changed in 24 years – not just with the teams, but also with world rugby itself – so what can we expect at Eden Park on Sunday?

France

France go into the World Cup final as underdogs. They have suffered two defeats this tournament – one at the hands of the All Blacks and the other to Tonga.

That being said, they also defeated England and Wales. Despite the circumstances of the Wales match, France still held off a try-hungry team, defended superbly and kicked for territory intelligently throughout.

One thing lacking with this French team, though, is tries. They have been out-scored by all the semi-finalists, and even quarter-finalists South Africa, England and Ireland ran in more tries than them.

Where France have been strong is with the boot. They lead the tournament with 17 successful penalty kicks from the boots of Morgan Parra and Dimitri Yachvili, making Marc Lievremont's decision to include these two dedicated scrum-halves in his starting XV look less absurd by the day.

No previous World Cup-winning team has lost a game in the Pool stage. If any team were to upset this norm, it would predictably be the unpredictable French.

New Zealand

There is a lot of pressure on the All Blacks going into Sunday's final. The tournament favourites will have the best chance of winning the cup for the first time since 1987, in front of a home crowd at the home of New Zealand rugby, against what many people see as an inferior team.

Many fans believe that New Zealand's 'real final' was against Australia last week. They overcame that test relatively comfortably and their forwards' efforts in defence and at the breakdown were outstanding. They also looked electrifying on the attack; even if they did only manage to score one try.

Much has been made of the absence of Dan Carter in the knock-out stages. New Zealand's talisman suffered a serious groin injury during kicking practice, and the team's injury worries were worsened when his replacement, Colin Slade, limped off during the quarter-final against Argentina.

Occupying the stand-off role now is third choice Aaron Cruden. While spot kick duties have been covered more than adequately by scrum-half Piri Weepu, it is the playmaking abilities of Carter that are being missed.

Cruden had a shaky start against Australia, but the 22-year-old quickly settled and saw the game out calmly and efficiently. How he will cope with the expectations of a whole nation on his shoulders will be crucial to New Zealand's success.

Head to Head

Since their first meeting in 1906, New Zealand have won 37 Tests to France's 12 with one draw in a total of 50 meetings.

France knocked New Zealand out of the tournament in the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup and the quarter-finals of the 2007 competition.

France were the last team to beat the All Blacks at Eden Park, doing so 23-20 on July 3, 1994.

New Zealand have scored 39 tries during this World Cup to France's 15.

Their most recent meeting, in the Pool stage of this year's competition, resulted in a 37-17 victory for New Zealand.

Sports Mole's prediction: New Zealand

Morgan Parra
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