Three duels to savour in Rugby World Cup finalFri, 27 Oct 2023 01:19:05 GMT

Defending champions South Africa and New Zealand battle it out on Saturday bidding to become the first team to win the Rugby World Cup four times.There are many engrossing battles to be played out across the Stade de France pitch. AFP Sports highlights three of them:Tale of the hookersWith two tightly matched teams, the game could be decided by which of the two hookers — All Blacks’ Codie Taylor and Springboks Bongi Mbonambi — is more reliable with his delivery to the line-out.Both are seeking to erase phantoms of the 2019 tournament. Taylor had a dreadful match in the semi-final defeat by England while Mbonambi did end up a World Cup winner but only played the first 20 minutes before suffering a blow to the head and having to leave the field.The 32-year-old has little choice but to play far longer this time, as he is the sole specialist hooker in the squad.Converted backrow forward Deon Fourie is on the bench but the difference in class is massive and having been cleared of allegations he made a racial slur at England’s Tom Curry in the semi-final, Mbonambi will be keen to round off the week with a man-of-the-match performance to rival the one he achieved against France.Soft or hard centreJesse Kriel and Jordie Barrett could provide a duel for the ages in the centres on Saturday.Kriel is making up for the frustration of missing out on the 2019 title, when he suffered an injury in the pool stage, with some huge performances in France.The 29-year-old centre was pivotal to the Springboks’ 29-28 success over hosts France in the quarter-finals, keeping both Gael Fickou and Jonathan Danty fairly quiet.Not just a stopper, he made 14 tackles in the game and came off bloodied and bruised. His deft kick set up winger Cheslin Kolbe for a try in the first half.Barrett too is seeking to make up for disappointment four years ago when the All Blacks lost to England in the semi-finals.The 26-year-old has earned his spurs on the way to the final, his marquee moment getting under the ball as Irish hooker Ronan Kelleher went to touch down nine minutes from the end of their pulsating quarter-final.”He makes the difference to this All Blacks three-quarter line, which without doubt is the best in the world,” France’s former defence coach David Ellis told L’Equipe.”Jordie Barrett relieves a lot of the pressure on fly-half Richie Mo’unga.”The scrum-half danceAaron Smith and Faf de Klerk, two of the finest scrum-halves of the past decade, get one final date together at Test level. “This is my last dance,” said 34-year-old Smith as he looked ahead to the final after a typically assured performance in the 44-6 romp over Argentina in the semi-finals.Whether it ends with a flourish will largely depend on Smith and De Klerk’s distribution of the ball, whether it is fast ball or box kicks to test their opponents under the high ball.In truth, De Klerk has had a strange tournament, made to look mediocre by his opposite number Jamison Gibson-Park in the pool stage loss to Ireland.But he then came on and did the job asked of him in the quarter-final against France and in the 16-15 semi-final win over England. He may look flamboyant with his long 1970s-style blond locks but his approach is more of the steady hand at the tiller.At 32, De Klerk may not be long behind Smith in hanging up his boots and he is generous in his praise of his opponent.”He’s been a great player for New Zealand and one of the guys I’ve looked up to during my career,” said de Klerk.”I’ve learned a lot from him.”