RWC Final: Head-to-heads

Date published: October 29 2015

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Ahead of the Rugby World Cup Final between New Zealand and Australia, here is a look at the critical head-to-head battles at Twickenham.

Man on man the 2011 champions came out on top but who is say whether the positions a Wallaby edged will be a deciding factor on Saturday.

Here we go then with our RWC Final head-to-heads…

15: Ben Smith v Israel Folau – Smith has been outstanding for a long time in the black jersey and his semi-final performance typified what he brings to the team. His solidity and ability to find a hole and exploit it makes him a key cog in the All Black machine. Folau has not been his usual self this year and no tries in the 2015 Rugby World Cup is a massive shock. He was also out of sorts against Argentina and it's for those reasons that Smith has the edge on the Wallaby going into the Twickenham final.
Verdict: Ben Smith (New Zealand)

Wing: Nehe Milner-Skudder v Drew Mitchell – Surely the former is about to win the Breaththrough Player award after a stellar 2015. Milner-Skudder took Super Rugby by storm with the Hurricanes to earn his place in the New Zealand squad and hasn't looked back, scoring four tries so far in the tournament. Meanwhile, Mitchell returned to the Test arena and is getting better every time he runs out for his country, with his showing against Argentina hugely impressive. It is a tough call that ended unresolved.
Verdict: Dead heat

13: Conrad Smith v Tevita Kuridrani – Very different in their strengths as Smith is a wily operator who has been there, seen it, done it in world rugby while Kuridrani is still relatively raw in the international arena. Both are effective though and Smith's solid defence will be tested throughout by the Wallaby, who has been a strong carrier alongside Matt Giteau, with their partnership continuing to blossom. Games such as these require no frills, low error counts and cool heads and that is where the All Black edges it.
Verdict: Conrad Smith (New Zealand)

12: Ma'a Nonu v Matt Giteau – What a battle this promises to be. Soon to be team-mates at Toulon, these two have been two of the stars of this World Cup of that there is little doubt. Nonu's wonderful delay of the pass for Beauden Barrett's try last weekend showed all of his experience in a year he has been excellent for both franchise and country. Giteau meanwhile has been a catalyst in Australia's turnaround in fortunes and is helping Bernard Foley no end in a playmaking sense. We can't separate these two centres.
Verdict: Dead heat

Wing: Julian Savea v Adam Ashley-Cooper – Another mouth-watering tussle in the backline as Ashley-Cooper comes into the final riding on a wave of confidence after his hat-trick. Savea continued his ongoing drought against the Boks as he failed to add to his eight tries in the competition. He has only scored twice against Australia in eight games while Ashley-Cooper has nine crossings in 28 meetings. In the high pressure environment we would edge the Wallaby in front, particularly with 113 caps to his name.
Verdict: Adam Ashley-Cooper (Australia)

10: Dan Carter v Bernard Foley – So much weight on the two goal-kickers' shoulders on Saturday and while Foley hasn't been too flash off the tee, he has shown in 2015 that when the pressure is well-and-truly on, he can handle it. Carter meanwhile has been in top form with ball in hand and looks sharp in his running game. That snap drop-goal against South Africa was key. He wins.
Verdict: Dan Carter (New Zealand)

9: Aaron Smith v Will Genia – Credit to Genia as his Super Rugby form was well off the pace at the ailing Reds but he has somehow looked like a different player in gold this World Cup. Smart in his management and with slick service, he has overtaken Nick Phipps at the base. This week he faces arguably the slickest around as Smith looks to lead his pack to the ultimate prize.
Verdict: Aaron Smith (New Zealand)

8: Kieran Read v David Pocock – Twelve months ago it would have bordered on the impossible that Read would come off second best to another number eight in the game. Then Pocock returned from injury and moved to the back of the scrum and the rest has been an unbelievable story of turnover quality that's up there with the best we have ever seen. While solid but not spectacular, Read has remained a mainstay in the New Zealand eight jersey but on recent form there is only one winner here as the Wallaby star gets our vote.
Verdict: David Pocock (Australia)

7: Richie McCaw v Michael Hooper – Will New Zealand's greatest player of the modern era walk away from the World Cup stage with a second title or is this fine Wallaby back-row set to inspire a win for the underdog? Hooper is definitely capable of getting Australia over the line in front and he certainly is a unique flanker, but the Kiwi's presence and experience edges him in.
Verdict: Richie McCaw (New Zealand)

6: Jerome Kaino v Scott Fardy – Kaino scored against France and South Africa and has been consistently strong for the All Blacks, rarely having a poor game. His yellow card last week was a mishap he cannot afford against the Wallabies, who boast an unsung flank who does so much work around the field. Fardy used to be a lock but has shone since moving to number six jersey and is in a similar mould to Richard Hill of England in 2003 in that he goes about his business while others earn the praise. He deserves plenty.
Verdict: Scott Fardy (Australia)

5: Sam Whitelock v Rob Simmons – It was imperative for New Zealand that Whitelock and Brodie Retallick remained fit throughout this World Cup, particularly with Patrick Tuipulotu being injured. That has happened and while the duo haven't been starring, they have got through the necessary work and were excellent at line-out time against the Boks. Simmons has improved greatly from four years ago but remains a significant distance off Whitelock, who has matured in his 72 caps. He's only just turned 27 years old.
Verdict: Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)

4: Brodie Retallick v Kane Douglas – Douglas would never have thought he would be preparing for a Rugby World Cup final a few months ago. Playing for Leinster in Ireland and seemingly out of the international loop, the call came from Michael Cheika to come back home and the rest has been history as he is now a starter. He's been solid as a physical specimen but Retallick is just that more mobile with his game and cracks the nod here. The All Black also offers excellent breakdown work to his CV so he's our pick.
Verdict: Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)

Prop: Owen Franks v Scott Sio – It says something about the performances of Sio that his return to the starting XV from injury was given such coverage in the media. He has been a reliable scrummaging prop for the Wallabies this World Cup but one wonders how his elbow will hold up against Franks. The Crusader will play an hour before Charlie Faumuina comes on and if Franks, unlike many others, stays on par with Sio until then, his job will be classed as a successful one. Faumuina can then do his all-action thing.
Verdict: Dead heat

2: Dane Coles v Stephen Moore – Not enough credit has gone to Moore for how he has led this Wallaby side since taking over the captaincy. The Brumby does his talking by leading by example and with other senior players dotted around the side, his calmness as the key decision maker is clearly working nicely. Coles is an entirely different beast as his mobility sets him apart from other hookers in the game. He must be spot on with his set-piece though and this is where Moore, plus his experience, sees him edge it.
Verdict: Stephen Moore (Australia)

Prop: Joe Moody v Sekope Kepu – Former wrestler Moody was given a chance by Steve Hansen and the New Zealand selectors in 2013, without really having made much noise in Super Rugby. Since then he has always remained in the picture and there's no doubt he is of Test match standard, with his performance off the bench against France also showing his skills with ball in hand. Kepu meanwhile scored the opening try against New Zealand in this year's Rugby Championship decider and, like the tight five, has developed his set-piece a great deal. He also possesses decent handling when in positions of importance and now looks the real deal as a tighthead.
Verdict: Sekope Kepu (Australia)

Total count: New Zealand 7-5 Australia

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