Australia are the holders and are playing at home. How come the bookmakers make England favourites to win?
Jack Rowell: England brought a winning record into the tournament, having beaten the major nations more than once over the last two years. Australia may be World Cup holders, but that was four years ago. Since then their rugby has changed little in style, and has been considered over-structured and too predictable to overcome today's defences. The wonderful, and probably unrepeatable, performance to stun New Zealand has obviously not convinced the pundits.
Jonathan Davies: England are favourites because of their form throughout the year, the strength of their experience up front and Jonny Wilkinson. Australia have picked up form and confidence during the tournament and have the capacity to improve more but England's ability to close down the game makes them the safer bet.
How can England win?
Rowell: England will look to attack the relatively weak Australian pack, establishing back-row moves from scrums and drives from line-outs, using Lawrence Dallaglio, Steve Thompson and Martin Johnson. They will seek to create space for their half-backs allowing them to direct play, mixing kicking with ball-in-hand. Play-makers Wilkinson and Will Greenwood will look to employ the power running of Ben Cohen and Mike Tindall and the elusive Jason Robinson. They will seek attacking field position for drop goals and penalty kicks, to utilise the skills of Wilkinson. Defensively, England would look to put pressure on Australia's suspect forwards, drip feeding opposition possession by presenting slow ball, to limit or negate attacking opportunities. In open play they will seek to thwart the efforts of the quicker Australian flankers George Smith and Phil Waugh - a major threat.
Davies: For most of the past six weeks England have played as if they were so scared of losing they've made safety their priority. They've dropped down a couple of gears and therefore have not been as fluent as they can be. Although they've been less ambitious they've been able to go back to their basic strengths. I think with Mike Tindall back in the centre they'll play wider in the final. There are two ways England can win. They can carry the ball as they did last summer when they comprehensively beat Australia, or they can use their forward power to establish control and force the penalties that Wilkinson's kicking can exploit. Once they feel they are dominating the game they can spread the ball and finish with a flourish.
How can Australia win?
Rowell: The England pack will be more formidable than that of New Zealand, therefore achieving good possession is key. This means quick but controlled, delivery from scrums, and accurate drills and throwing in the line-out, then to play with the support of Smith and Waugh, sometimes close, then out wide, harnessing the running skills of Lote Tuqiri, Sailor and Stirling Mortlock and the powerful No 8 David Lyons.
Davies: Australia's best chance lies in playing in the same way they did against New Zealand in the semi-final - starving England of the ball by keeping possession, committing a low rate of handling errors and going through lots of phases. Against the All Blacks they once went through 15 phases and gained only 10 metres but that didn't matter. They kept the ball away from the opposition and when they attacked through the channels with Mortlock they looked very dangerous. They also need the back three to be influential and this can happen. Wendell Sailor is capable of scoring against anyone and with Mat Rogers and Tuqiri letting rip, they could take a lot of handling.
Is South Africa's Andre Watson the best choice as referee? Will his appointment favour either side?
Rowell: Watson has been one of the best referees in the world for some time. His wide international experience has earned the respect of players around the globe. He has been chosen for his objectivity. He will not be fazed and will deliver the refereeing input as required.
Davies: I've no quarrel with Watson, who is very experienced. England's Chris White will count himself unlucky because he was put out of the reckoning once his country reached the final. Being a South African, Watson is more geographically neutral but southern hemisphere referees do interpret the laws in a slightly different way and this could favour the Aussies a little. But, with one or two exceptions, the refereeing hasn't been a problem and I don't expect it be in the final.
The Australian newspapers are lambasting England for playing "boring" rugby. Do England bore you?
Rowell: Pommy-bashing is part of Australian culture. England have so far been unable to reproduce their attacking game against the leading nations. Point-scoring has largely depended on Wilkinson's boot in a game supposedly structured for running. For Australia, this represents an opportunity to criticise their rivals, and perhaps also to destabilise England's tactics, as happened in 1991, to telling effect.
Davies: No. England have played the way they needed to in order to overcome the opposition and the conditions. We would have all loved to see them playing to the full extent of their talents but they're here to win the World Cup and it's been far from boring watching them set about it. You could hardly have called the Aussies interesting when they won it in 1999. In the record books the word "boring" doesn't appear in brackets after their name.
And are the Wallabies really that interesting?
Rowell: Accepting the need to rebuild, and the necessity for ongoing tactical development, the Wallabies have still been off-colour and disappointing for some time. Performances have left them well short of the attractive and successful rugby of yesteryear. Such play was based on phase rugby with an organisational superiority last seen in the last series win against the Lions. However, in treating everyone to the game of the tournament when eliminating the All Blacks last week, Australia launched into a new, exciting handling game.
Davies: If Australia had the English forwards they'd be playing exactly the same game so I don't know what the Aussie press are banging on about. It's just their one-eyed way of helping to get an edge for their team. Australia came into the tournament with not much going for them apart from home advantage and I bet £50 on them at 5-1 because I fancied they'd develop. I felt they were lucky to beat Ireland but there's no doubt they've improved. By how much is the question that makes them very interesting.
Australia have three former rugby league internationals - Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri - in their backs; England have Jason Robinson. Have the 13-a-siders improved union?
Rowell: It always takes time for them to be assimilated into union and it does appear that ball-runners, such as Robinson, Sailor and Tuqiri are able to adapt more quickly, than the ball-handlers such as Iestyn Harris and Robbie Paul. They are all gifted rugby players, and men of this calibre certainly enhance the union code.
Davies: The players and coaches who've moved over from league have obviously made a big difference. It is not an easy transition but if they are world-class operators you want them on your side. But it's wrong to keep thinking of them as ex-league. They are union players and if they are better than those they've replaced it is obvious they've brought an improvement.
Clive Woodward describes Martin Johnson as "the best captain in world rugby, by a distance". Is he right?
Rowell: Johnson leads by example, playing with a high skill level and the will to win. His decision-taking is invariably correct, founded on common sense. There are other good captains - Galthié of France, Gregan of Australia - but Johnson is the best.
Davies: Without doubt, Martin is worthy of that title. He has great presence, leads from the front and England wouldn't be as strong without him. I also think that Gregan is underrated as a captain. I think he is tremendous. The final offers a good chance to compare them.
Jonny Wilkinson: rugby genius or rugby robot?
Rowell: When a player in any sport reaches such a high level of performance he has only done so by eliminating human inconsistency; but instead of praising the talent honed by such effort, that player will be described in rather disparaging terms as "robot" or "machine". To achieve the levels of performance that Wilkinson does involves an intense training schedule beyond lesser mortals. It takes immense will. J W is a natural thanks to his all-round football ability, allowing him to make the correct decisions and implement them well, be it to run, pass or kick. He defends to a high standard. His physical and mental attributes mean he can sustain performance under immense pressure. His place-kicking is further evidence of a gifted and precious talent.
Davies: To be called a genius you must have the creative ability to do things no one expects, to take the breath away with moves manufactured from nothing. At the moment Jonny is more of a robot - the best robot in the world in his position who makes everything look easy. But efficiency and not magic is still his top suit, although I'm sure he'll develop. His footballing and tactical awareness are getting better all the time. One match soon, when England aren't operating fluently, he'll suddenly grab the game and turn it into something electric. Then we'll know he's approaching genius level.
Who will win, and by what margin?
Rowell: England are like a giant tanker gathering momentum. Australia do not appear to have enough tugs to turn it around. England to win by 10 points.
Davies: As much as I would welcome the winnings an Australian victory would bring me, I believe England will win by six to nine points.
FIERCE RIVALS FIVE CLASSIC ENGLAND-AUSTRALIA ENCOUNTERS
31 May, 1975: Ballymore, Brisbane
Australia 30 England 21
Talk about hellfire and brimstone. One up in a two-Test series, the over-motivated Wallaby pack punched seven bells out of England from the kick-off, sparking an immediate all-in brawl. Mike Burton, warned for retaliating with extreme prejudice, was then sent off for a late tackle - the first Englishman to suffer the ultimate sanction at international level. Playing a man down, John Pullin's tourists were six points up at the interval, but leaked four tries in the second half as they ran out of puff.
3 May, 1987: Concord Oval, Sydney
Australia 19 England 6
An inaugural World Cup match for both nations was transformed after the break when a certain David Campese was awarded a try, despite having the ball dislodged from his arms by the covering Orrell outside-half, Peter Williams. England had claimed the opening try through their captain, Mike Harrison, and with the back row of Gary Rees, Peter Winterbottom and Dean Richards outplaying their opponents, they looked good bets for victory until the Campese incident. Simon Poidevin scored a second Wallaby try late on.
2 November, 1991, Twickenham
England 6 Australia 12
The second World Cup final, and one in which England might have prevailed had they played to their forward strength and ground the Wallabies into the London dirt. Instead, they opted for an expansive approach wholly at odds with the tight game that had served them so well in previous rounds. An early flash of genius from the young Tim Horan laid the foundations for the game's only try, a mauling effort by Tony Daly. With Michael Lynagh shading his kicking duel with Jon Webb, the Australians just made it home.
10 June, 1995: Newlands, Cape Town
Australia 22 England 25
Rob Andrew's crowning moment - a last-minute, 45-metre drop goal that earned England World Cup quarter-final victory over the holders. A game memorable for its nerve-shredding drama rather than its outstanding rugby featured two tries, a thrilling long-range break by Leicester's Tony Underwood and a sublime high-ball chase and take routine from Australia's Damien Smith. Andrew and Michael Lynagh went eyeball to eyeball on the kicking front, each rattling up 17 points before the Englishman's coup de grâce.
21 June, 2003: Docklands Stadium, Melbourne
Australia 14 England 25
England's first Test victory on Wallaby soil and their most comprehensive display of the Woodward era. Martin Johnson played out of his skin, Lawrence Dallaglio hit a peak not seen since the Lions tour of South Africa in 1997 and the backs, beautifully organised by Jonny Wilkinson, scored three wonderful tries between them. Will Greenwood, Mike Tindall and Ben Cohen were the finishers - Tindall's try, in particular, was a classic product of fingertip passing - and Australia never looked like finding an answer.
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