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Pressure on England in Rugby World Cup final

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Australia vs. England in a World Cup final at the Sydney Olympic Stadium on a Saturday night… this is the scenario rugby promoters have been praying for since the tournament began more than a month ago – and so it will be.

Such a scenario appeared almost impossible after Australia’s performances in the tri-nations series against New Zealand and South Africa, but as they seem to do in big competitions, the Wallabies found another level when it mattered most.

The Australians have, in fact, amassed an incredible World Cup record: since 1995 the Wallabies have lost only one World Cup game.

While the English have struggled in several World Cups this time around a World Cup final is what the team, the ravenous UK media and millions of supporters expected of them, and they have done extraordinarily well to have absorbed the pressure.

Despite the pedigree in both sides, neither was favourite to win heading into their respective semi-finals.

The Wallabies took an early lead against New Zealand and held it with a glut of stoic defence and a lot of discipline to win 22-10.

England defeated France 24-7 by getting the ball into a suitable field position so their indestructible flyhalf, Jonny Wilkinson, could, once again, kick them to a memorable victory.

In a situation like this it would be logical to think that Australia is under the most pressure – but they are not.

Australia has won the World Cup twice (1991, 1999). England has the most to prove, and it’s not all about rugby.

For almost 20 years, and for no apparent reason, the English have failed badly in most major sporting competitions and Australia, and in most cases Canada, have beaten them in nearly every one.

Perhaps the best example of the seemingly endless merry-go-round of English mediocrity in sport happened at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

England has a population of 65 million, but they could only manage one gold medal in Atlanta, 15 medals in total. By contrast, the poverty stricken Ukraine won nine gold medals, 23 in total.

The British media has been alluding to this and the need for "a refreshing change in the sporting landscape" since Wilkinson, complete with his marketable face and distinctive kicking style, came onto the scene.

Now the English have got a side that can break the tradition of losing and if they’re successful, like the Crazy Canucks of the late 1970s, they will give a generation of young people a new breed of heroes to idolize.

While there are obvious pressures that come with this kind of expectation, the upside is that every member of the England team must feel a sense of destiny, particularly against Australia.

The other advantage England has is that they have no injury concerns and should field the same side as they did in last week’s semi-final.

Prop Ben Darwin is the only Wallaby casualty from the match against New Zealand.

Darwin almost broke his neck when a scrum collapsed in the second half and is now out of the game indefinitely. Al Baxter is Darwin’s replacement.

Darwin’s plight will also give Matthew Dunning, who was born in Calgary, a chance to nab a slice of history from the bench.

Dunning, whose father is Canadian, did consider playing for Canada two years ago, but instead his younger brother, Casey, made the trip over and played several games for the Canadian under 23 side before returning to play club rugby in Australia.

Despite the inclusion of Dunning, England should have an advantage if both coaches are forced to use their bench players in a clutch situation.

England’s bench is headed by prop Jason Leonard, 35, who broke the test record last week. Leonard, who is 116 kg, has played 112 tests for his country.

The World Cup final goes at 1 a.m. local time on Saturday.

New Zealand will meet France in the play-off for third and fourth spot on Thursday at 1 a.m. Whistler time.

Tournament Record:

Australia: defeated New Zealand 22-10, Scotland 33-16, Ireland 17-16, Namibia 142-0, Romania 90-8, Argentina 24-8

England: defeated France 24-7, Wales 28-17, South Africa 25-6, Georgia 84-6, Samoa 35-22, Uruguay 111-13

Where to watch replays of the final on Sunday:

Tapley’s — noon, 2 p.m., 10 p.m.

Dubh Linn Gate — All day

A variety of different venues are considering showing the final live so supporters are advised to check notice boards and ask staff.

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