After overcoming Australia in the second
World Cup semi-final, it's hard not to see New Zealand going all the way and
lifting the Webb Ellis trophy next Sunday.
They now only have France to beat in
order to win the World Cup for the second time and finally end 24 years of
disappointment and expectation.
They may only have scored two tries in
their last two matches but New Zealand, despite clearly missing Dan Carter's
kicking skills, have clearly been the most consistent of the tournament.
Of course that hasn't meant much in the
past with the All Blacks often heading into a World Cup as the best team in the
world, only to "choke" at the last minute and lose at the semi-final stage.
But against the Wallabies, New Zealand
were pretty much always in control, just as they were against Argentina in the
There is a certain amount of nervousness
around New Zealand that France are the All Blacks' bogey team and could ruin
their dreams next weekend. But Oval Talk just can't see it.
Yes, France can pull a performance out of
nowhere but Les Bleus have been poor throughout the tournament. They were poor
when they lost to New Zealand in the pool phase. They were poor when they lost
to Tonga just two weeks later.
They were poor (albeit less so than
their opposition) when they beat England in the quarter-finals and they were
poor when they only managed to beat a 14-man Wales by one small point in the
France are very capable (that's
what makes them all the more frustrating) but New Zealand have risen to the
pressure of playing at home, instead of crumbling, and it's hard to see them
letting this one go when it is within their grasp - no matter who their opponents
are in the final.
OT actually thinks Wales would have been
tougher opponents for the All Blacks. Wales are justified in feeling hard done
by, with Sam Warburton's dangerous tackle probably only warranting a
sin-binning rather than a straight red card.
But they still had the chance to win
their semi-final. Stephen Jones missed both a conversion and a drop goal
attempt in the second half while Leigh Halfpenny's penalty from the half-way
line dropped just centimetres short of going over the bar.
Talismanic skipper Warburton has since
received a three-week ban for the tackle meaning he will miss the bronze
play-off on Friday when they will take on Australia, which will make it tough for
the Welsh to match their best ever World Cup finish - third back in 1987 when
the World Cup was last staged in New Zealand - especially if fly-half Rhys Priestland fails to recover from the shoulder injury that kept him out of the semi-final.
That said, with the exception of that semi-final loss, Wales have been the second best team of the tournament, behind
only the All Blacks, while Australia have been a little more changeable,
especially when they have been missing one of their back line (Digby Ioane
missed the loss to Ireland in the pool phase with a fractured thumb while
Kurtley Beale missed the semi-final with a hamstring injury).
The matches are an exact match of that
first World Cup - when New Zealand beat France in the final and Wales beat
Australia for third - and it's distinctly possible, OT would even say highly
likely, that when the dust settles next Sunday, the results will be the same,
especially in the final.