Clive Woodward, the England coach, has made one change to his starting line-up for Saturday's World Cup final with Australia at the Telstra Stadium. Mike Tindall, the hard-tackling Bath centre, will replace his club colleague, Mike Catt, in midfield - a direct acknowledgement of the threat posed by the out-sized Wallaby back division, which contains three powerful wide runners in Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Stirling Mortlock.
Catt, who reverts to the bench, will need some consoling. The 32-year-old veteran of three World Cup campaigns was England's saviour in the close-run quarter-final against Wales, when he was introduced at half-time and single-handedly turned the game. But Woodward clearly feels Tindall's more physical presence will give added security to a defence certain to be tested to the limit by the reigning champions.
Australia have made one enforced change to their starting team, with the inexperienced Al Baxter at tighthead prop replacing Ben Darwin, who is in hospital. Eddie Jones, their coach, has resisted the temptation to strengthen his line-out by playing David Giffin or Matt Cockbain from the first whistle. Both men remain on the bench, where they are joined by Matt Dunning, the new front-row replacement, and Matt Giteau, the exciting ACT Brumbies utility back who missed the semi-final victory over New Zealand through injury.
The price of semi-final defeat for the All Blacks is another evening at the coalface - 14 of those who started last weekend's match against Australia will start tomorrow's third place play-off with France at the Telstra Stadium, a fixture they would much prefer to avoid like the plague. And the price of failure for the Tricolores? A late-night session with a dodgy movie or two, and a Thursday off.
New Zealand, lambasted by their ever-expectant public for failing to win a second World Cup at the fourth time of asking, will field their strongest side in the game no one wants to happen. All but one of the big names will be on view: Doug Howlett, Joe Rokocoko, Carlos Spencer, Richie McCaw have all been press-ganged into service. The exception is Justin Marshall, the Canterbury scrum-half, who failed to go the distance against the Wallabies and is still suffering from rib and chest injuries. Steve Devine, of Auckland, replaces him.
"This is a really important match for us to win, as there is a factor of accountability within the group," John Mitchell, the coach, explained. "There is something to salvage from this tournament, and it is important to finish on a high. "
The French have named a shadow team featuring only two of the players who faced England on Sunday - Tony Marsh, the Montferrand centre, and Sylvain Marconnet, the Stade Français prop, who switches to loosehead from the tighthead position. Yannick Bru, of Toulouse, will lead the side from hooker, taking over the reins from Fabien Galthié, who retired after the trauma of the weekend. Dimitri Yachvili, of Biarritz, takes over the scrum-half position.
Jo Maso, the manager, insisted his side had every intention of taking a serious approach to the play-off, which is probably the least popular fixture in the world game. He explained that several of the first-choice players were injured, and that others were simply exhausted after their efforts over the last six weeks. Tiredness may well be a factor for a different reason. After the failure against England, the squad cheered themselves by viewing a film of questionable taste described by Raphael Ibañez, the former captain, as "an internal production". The mind boggles.
It is difficult to imagine Jonny Wilkinson, the puritanical prince of English rugby, being caught up in such an unseemly scrum, which may go some of the way towards explaining why his peers have voted him international player of the year. Wilkinson, who retains the title first bestowed on him in 2002, beat four All Blacks - Spencer, Howlett, Rokocoko and McCaw - in a poll conducted among members of the seven leading Test squads.
Rokocoko, the 20-year-old wing from Fiji who made his debut for the All Blacks against England in Wellington a little over five months ago, claimed the newcomer's award, beating the Northampton hooker Steve Thompson, the Wallaby flanker Phil Waugh and the French No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy to the prize. Peculiarly, New Zealand beat England to the team award.
TEAMS FOR FINAL (Saturday, Sydney, 9.0am GMT): England: J Lewsey (Wasps); J Robinson (Sale), M Tindall (Bath), W Greenwood (Harlequins), B Cohen (Northampton); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton); T Woodman (Gloucester), S Thompson (Northampton), P Vickery (Gloucester), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), B Kay (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: D West (Leicester), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Corry (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester), K Bracken (Saracens), M Catt (Bath), I Balshaw (Bath).
AUSTRALIA: M Rogers; W Sailor, S Mortlock, E Flatley, L Tuqiri; S Larkham, G Gregan; D Lyons, P Waugh, G Smith, N Sharpe, J Harrison, A Baxter, B Cannon, B Young. Replacements: J Paul, M Dunning, D Giffin, M Cockbain, C Whitaker, M Giteau, J Roff.
TEAMS FOR THIRD-FOURTH PLAY-OFF (tomorrow, Sydney, 9.0am GMT): FRANCE: C Poitrenaud; P Elhorga, T Marsh, D Traille, D Bory; G Merceron, D Yachvili; S Marconnet, Y Bru (capt), J B Poux, D Auradou, T Privat, P Tabacco, S Chabal, C Labit. Replacements: R Ibañez, J-J Crenca, F Pelous, O Magne, F Michalak, B Liebenberg, N Brusque.
NEW ZEALAND: M Muliaina; D Howlett, L MacDonald, A Mauger, J Rokocoko; C Spencer, S Devine; D Hewett, K Mealamu, G Somerville, C Jack, A Williams, R Thorne (capt), R McCaw, J Collins. Replacements: M Hammett, C Hoeft, B Thorn, M Holah, B Kelleher, D Carter, C Ralph.
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content