The Final Before The Final

The 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup was always going to be a battle between defending champions South Africa, hosts New Zealand, the gritty Australians, England and France. For many people, the dream final would feature South Africa’s Springboks against either New Zealand’s All Blacks or Australia’s Wallabies. And for such rugby fans, they might not have to wait until the final to see such a match-up. After the Wallabies surprise loss to Ireland, Australia finished second in Group C and will thus meet South Africa in the quarterfinals. Clashes between the two titans have traditionally been mouthwatering affairs. This time around, there is added spice to the old rivalry. Both the Springboks and the Wallabies are bidding to become the first teams to win three Rugby World Cups, while South Africa have the added incentive of becoming the first side to retain the Rob Ellis Trophy. This means they have the power in their own hands to keep their dreams alive while crushing the hopes of the other. South Africa carry fresh memories of back-to-back loses to Australia in this year’s Tri-Nations Tournament, though the Springboks have the overall head-to-head edge over the Wallabies. In the 73 matches that they have played, South Africa have won 42 to Australia’s 31. The two sides entered the World Cup on the back of contrasting fortunes. Australia were highly charged and had enjoyed a fine patch of form, despite a shock loss to Samoa in a warm-up match. South Africa on the other hand were battered and bruised and coach Peter de Villiers was under immense pressure to string together a triumphal campaign despite injuries and poor form plaguing the Springboks. The Boks duly started slowly in New Zealand while the Wallabies shot out of the blocks. However, Australia’s progress was checked by the stunning display by the gutsy Irish, while South Africa turned on the power – albeit against weaker opposition – by thumping Namibia and Fuji, and gaining the measure of confidence they will need for the knock-out phases of the tournament. On paper, the teams look evenly balanced and it might come down to who wants the victory more on the day. South Africa coach de villiers said the clash between the two giants will not be easy, but a victory for South Africa could give his side the momentum it needs to retain the cup and become the first team to secure three World Cup triumphs. “Australia is a tough team to meet in the quarterfinals and to be honest the match can go either way. “On the other hand the boys know what is expected for them to make history so we are well prepared,” said de Villiers on the official IRB Rugby World Cup website. What will also be of interest is whether this clash will give the victors added confidence, or it will drain them mentally and physically and make it all the harder to then stave off the challenge posed by New Zealand, England and France who are all hungry for success. These three sides only have one World Cup triumph each and will not want either South Africa or Australia to extend their dominance of the tournament. When all is said, the Springboks-Wallabies clash has all the ingredients of a World Cup final before the final.

September 2011
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