All Blacks keeping the faith with semi-final team
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has named the same starting XV that held off South Africa to take on Australia in Sunday morning's World Cup final at Twickenham.
That means late replacement Joe Moody will again start at prop, and will almost certainly come up against Scott Sio, who was outstanding for the Wallabies prior to injuring his elbow in the quarter-final against Scotland.
Moody was drafted into the squad to replace Tony Woodcock after the former Blues player tore his hamstring in the final pool game against Tonga.
Just days after arriving in England, Moody was named on the reserves bench for the quarter-final against France in Cardiff, and was outstanding after replacing Wyatt Crockett when the veteran injured his groin in the first half.
With Crockett now recovered, most people thought he would regain his spot in the starting side for the final, but Hansen elected to instead name him on a talent-laden bench that includes hooker Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams.
Moody and the rest of the All Blacks pack will be expected to exert pressure on a Wallabies scrum, which has improved in recent times, but appeared vulnerable against Argentina in the Australians' 29-15 semi-final victory.
In naming his side, Hansen recognised the different paths to the final that the trans-Tasman neighbours have followed.
Apart from their first-up test against the Pumas, the All Blacks were in cruise mode until France, before being fully tested against the Springboks.
The Wallabies, on the other hand, have been scrapping for their lives since their opening pool game against Fiji six weeks ago. Their only relatively easy match was a 65-3 blowout against Uruguay.
"We've had the luxury of building game by game throughout the whole tournament, whilst Australia have had to be at their very best right from day one," Hansen said.
He also said the team hadn't come into the tournament with the mindset of being the titleholders and the expectation of being the favourites.
"We came here as contenders for the Cup, just like everyone else," Hansen said.
"In our minds, we have never been defenders.
"We knew we would have to earn the right to progress through the tournament so being in the final is very satisfying in its own right.
"But the ultimate goal has always been to win it, so we are exactly where we need to be to try and achieve that."
This will be the first time the All Blacks and Australia have met in a World Cup final. They have met three times in semi-finals - in 1991, 2003 and 2011. Both teams have won the tournament twice.
ALL BLACKS: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams.