By Iain Ransom
Australia’s advance to a first World Cup final match-up against the All Blacks triggered an exchange of verbal barrages from salivating fans and pundits on both sides of the Tasman Sea on Monday.
The Antipodean nations have long shared a passionate rivalry across various sports, with New Zealand generally the underdogs and keen to show up ‘big brother’ across ‘the ditch’.
In rugby, however, the All Blacks have dominated in all but a few of their matches against the Wallabies over the past decade.
Often ranked one and two in the world, the teams’ failure to meet in the final of the global showpiece has been one of the more curious anomalies of the game.
So the prospect of the ultimate clash for four years of bragging rights whipped the media in both countries into a frenzy.
“Motivation can’t possibly be a problem for the All Blacks this week. A World Cup final should be more than enough in itself,” New Zealand Herald columnist Gregor Paul wrote.
“But it’s against Australia – who in rugby terms at least are little brother. It’s against Australia – who at times in the past decade have been a nauseating mix of over confidence and under performance.”
Bookmakers have installed the defending champion All Blacks as hot favourites to go back-to-back, and the Wallabies will have grim memories of their last encounter, a thrashing at New Zealand’s Eden Park fortress.
But Australia’s past World Cup winners were convinced Michael Cheika’s side could tear up the form guide.
“Argentina’s scrum put us through the wringer, but Australia’s defence was outstanding,” Wallabies great Michael Lynagh said in quotes published by The Australian newspaper on Monday.
“Australia is one of the few teams that can win, Australia can beat New Zealand, this is a huge opportunity.”
John Eales, captain of Australia’s 1999 World Cup-winning side, was also backing an upset.
“They’ve peaked at the right time,” the former Wallabies lock told Fox Sports. “This team’s got one song sheet and they’re all singing from it. They’ve been singing from it all year.”
Australia are one of only a few sides to deny the All Blacks complete dominance of world rugbyin recent years and though most New Zealand scribes tipped a win for the champions, there were signs of a grudging respect.
“The final will be a better contest for Australia’s presence,” Chris Rattue wrote in the New Zealand Herald.
“They specialise in guile, whereas Argentina are still too gullible to match it with the All Blacks.
“But the All Blacks are ready to pounce on the mouse which is roaring.”