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Rugby World Final Cup – Players to Watch

The Rugby World Cup final is here and it’s time to be a hero.

Come Saturday night, someone in black or green will be the toast of their nation.

But who will seize the moment and shape their destiny within the giant bowl of the Stade de France when South Africa, the holders, take on New Zealand?

Here are four players who might have a say in the outcome:

Faf de Klerk – South Africa No.9

It takes a certain type of player to oust an in-form teammate for a World Cup final and Faf de Klerk is that man.

De Klerk has come into the Springboks’ starting line-up in place of Cobus Reinach, but it’s not a switch many South Africa fans will lose much sleep over.

After all, De Klerk is 32, was in the team that lifted the trophy four years ago, and this will be the 25th time he has started a game alongside half-back partner Handre Pollard and the eighth against the All Blacks.

De Klerk is what other players call “busy”. That doesn’t just mean he is industrious. It means he is into everything – the rucks, the scrums, the opposition and the referee’s ear.

Is the long-haired Japan-based No.9 feeling edgy ahead of a final against the All Blacks? It doesn’t sound like it. Asked what he does to get ready for a World Cup final, he replied: “A big part of it is preparing the hair.”

Duane Vermeulen – South Africa No.8

If it comes down to experience, then not even the All Blacks have anyone to compare with 37-year-old Vermeulen, who has been playing pro rugby for 19 years.

He was the man-of-the-match in the final against England four years ago, when many people thought he would call it a day at 33.

He was not in the team at the start of the year and many more thought time had caught up with the former Ulster No.8.

Instead, he’s still there – pushing and grunting at the back of the Springboks scrum and making the same big tackles and charges with the ball in hand.

Vermeulen has played in four of South Africa’s six matches at the tournament so far and if the All Blacks are going to deny the men in green, then they will need to neutralize his influence.

Aaron Smith – New Zealand No.9

Wales flanker Martyn Williams used to be known as “Nugget” but in New Zealand that nickname only applies to one man – All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith.

This is his final curtain call as an All Black, but anyone thinking he’s slowing down after playing in 124 Test matches in total, has been proved seriously wrong .

Smith has been playing some of the best rugby of his career in France – lively, electric even, and the perfect hinge between forwards and backs.

He scored a try against Argentina in the semi-final and has four in total for the tournament.

He may be 34 years-old, but Smith still has the razor-quick reactions of a youngster, rapid acceleration, and manages to fizz around the breakdown with an intent that no other scrum-half in the world can match.

If New Zealand get on top against the Springboks, then expect Smith to be buzzing in his final game.

Ardie Savea – New Zealand No.8

If there is a more complete all-round rugby player in the world, then he has been eclipsed at this tournament by Ardie Savea.

France scrum-half Antoine Dupont was supposed to the king, but a smack on the jaw understandably dimmed his light in the quarter-final against South Africa, whilst Savea has shone more brightly with every game.

He can run with the ball, pass, tackle and kick with amazing accuracy, but he also does everything with a calm efficiency.

He has scored three tries in the competition, while he made a match-leading 16 carries in the victory over the Pumas last time out.

Vermeulen may win their head-to-head  on Saturday through willpower, but Savea’s stunning skills are more likely to sway the outcome.

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