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Premiership Rugby

World Cup Final – Key match-ups

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

BRENDAN CANNON V STEVE THOMPSON:The two hookers share plenty of similarities with each other and the battle in the front row should prove to be a titanic one as both men look to drive their teams forward. Both Thompson and Cannon began their careers on the side of the scrum and they still excel in the loose for their respective teams. That's not to say that either falls away from the more traditional role of a tight forward as neither will stand back when they need to tighten it up.

Both men have 23 caps to their names and experience will not be an issue when they clash in Sydney.

Cannon overcame a near fatal car accident 10 years ago – an incident that left him with 50 stitches to his head – and his play on the field mirrors his fighting spirit off the field. The battling Wallaby hooker has had an inspired tournament to date and he was prominent during Australia's victory over New Zealand in the semi-finals last week. The fiery Waratahs star has vowed to win this game for injured team-mate Ben Darwin and the contest up front will provide an awesome battle.

Thompson has proved a revelation at hooker and the English have Scotland coach Ian McGeechan to thank for it. The wily Scot was the man responsible for getting Thompson to switch from the side of the scrum to the front row and the big man has never looked back. In open play he is almost unstoppable – something Australian centre Nathan Grey can attest to – and he gives nothing away in the tight exchanges. Thompson's one possible weakness is his line-out throwing, an area the Wallabies will be looking to exploit.

Our verdict: Thompson was the form man coming into the RWC, but has not delivered his very best yet, especially in the line-outs. Cannon to shade this battle.

JUSTIN HARRISON V MARTIN JOHNSON:Both men will remember the day Harrison made his Test debut for the Wallabies – one with a smile and one with a frown – against the British and Irish Lions in the deciding Test on their tour of Australia in 2001. It all culminated in one line-out as the Lions stood poised on a possible victory and series win, but the lanky frame of Harrison stole it all away as he pilfered the ball from under Johnson's nose.

Perhaps one of the most vivid memories from the game is Johnson wrapping his hands around Harrison's neck as he looked to throttle his Australian counterpart. The England skipper will be keen to exact his revenge for the Australian's thievery by lifting the Webb Ellis Cup high over his head in victory.

Johnson leads his team from the front – nothing flashy, but with pure grit and determination. Many believe that Jonny Wilkinson is their key man, but it could be argued that without Johnson, England are a different side.

Harrison, meanwhile, is not on the same level when it comes to Test match experience and has not managed to keep his game at the level on which he debuted, but the Australian has shown he can lift his game when it counts the most and he will be sure to provide Johnson with a huge battle in the line-outs.

Our verdict: There can be only one winner here. Johnson will not be beaten twice by the same man.

STEPHEN LARKHAM V JONNY WILKINSON:The England fly-half is arguably the most famous rugby player in the world at the moment – love him or hate him – you have to admire him. He has been criticised, he has been praised, but come Saturday that will all be behind him as he looks to kick England to victory.

Opposite him will be one of the most talented pivots in the game – Stephen Larkham. The ACT Brumbies star has been hampered by injury throughout his career, but at his best he is arguably the best running fly-half playing the game today.

The two No.10s' styles could not be more of a contrast, but both are potential match-winners and they will need to stamp their authority on the game as quickly as possible if their teams are to dominate early on.

Our verdict: Jonny to win this one – his all-round abilities just pip Larkham's thrilling running game.

LOTE TUQIRI V JASON ROBINSON:The two Rugby League converts have met once before – in the second half of England's 25-14 Test win in Melbourne in June – and Saturday's encounter promises to be an intriguing contest sure to draw comparisons of David versus Goliath. Robinson loses 18cm in height and a further 18kg in weight to the bigger Tuqiri, but the Wallaby knows all too well the offensive capabilities of his smaller opponent and will not take him lightly come the Final.

"Jason Robinson's a freak … you can give him a line and he'll probably still punch through it," said Tuqiri this week, "so you've got to be on the ball all the time."

Robinson has had little opportunity to showcase his talents on rugby's biggest stage, but against Wales he sent out a warning to all of England's opponents as he cut through the Welsh defenders to set up centre Will Greenwood's try in the second half. England at the time trailed 10-3, but ended up winning 28-17.

Tuqiri began the tournament on the bench, but since replacing veteran left-wing Joe Roff against Scotland in the quarter-finals, the flying winger has looked one of the strongest players in the tournament. His game has grown from strength to strength since then.

Both players love to run the ball from the back and it would be a disappointment if the weather was to ruin what could be an open display of running rugby.

Our verdict: Robinson's running to prove too hot for Tuqiri to handle.

WENDELL SAILOR V BEN COHEN:Their battle on the wing will provide one of the most interesting match-ups on the day. Both are known for their bulk and rampaging running, but have also received criticism for their slack defensive work. Some may argue their size, in fact, hampers them on defence as it is more difficult to turn and get back to chase the ball. But you cannot argue with their effectiveness on the run (with ball in hand) – it has a wrecking-ball affect on defences.

Sailor has struggled to adapt to the finer details of Rugby Union since converting from Rugby League last year. It is something he has admitted himself, but his natural ability has kept him in the eye of the Wallaby selectors. There is no doubting his abilities on attack, but he has scored just one try in the tournament thus far, and his defence has been targeted as a weak-link by a number of teams.

Cohen, like Sailor, has had a poor tournament, but his career strike-rate shows his true pedigree with 25 tries in just 34 Tests. The young winger managed to keep his on-field performances consistent during a dreadful period in his personal life with the death of his father following an assault outside a Northampton nightclub taking place in November 2000, just days before England played Australia at Twickenham.

He also received anonymous death threats through the post before the 2001 Six Nations opener against Wales. He had become a hate figure in Wales after some unwise comments he made in 2000, replying "Shane who?" when asked about Welsh wing Shane Williams following a one-sided Twickenham Test that England won 46-12. He is now on the verge of becoming the second member of his family to win a World Cup, with his uncle being the former Fulham footballer George Cohen who played at right-back when England won the 1966 Football World Cup.

Our verdict: Cohen to edge out Sailor, but, be warned, this match-up is NOT for the faint-hearted.

By Rob Peters


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