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South Africa v New Zealand is a Meathead Meeting of Minds

Will it be a boisterous braai or a happy hangi?

In other words, where is the meat feast going to taste most succulent this weekend? At the barbeques in South Africa or New Zealand?

The two greatest rugby nations – at least in World Cup terms – meet in the final at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday night.

In bars, restaurants, back gardens and outdoor gatherings across both nations, they will be aiming to tuck in and celebrate their team lifting the trophy.

It’s a tight one to call.

That’s reflected in the betting, where DragonBet make New Zealand slight favourites at 8/11, with South Africa a notch behind at 6/5.

On paper, it looks difficult to predict and even to analyse. On the one hand, it appears to be a battle between the ferocious and unyielding Springboks pack and their famed “bomb squad” who come off the bench – versus the slick and salami-slicing All Blacks back line.

That, however, would be to tell only half the story. On their day, the South African back line can be as potent as their rivals, once the likes of Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse get into gear.

It might not have happened against England in their semi-final, but France felt the razor-sharpness of that threat in the quarters.

Likewise, the All Blacks can be hugely physical up front as well as deadly out wide. No-one who tries to get one over gnarled old forwards such as Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick finds it easy.

Yet, the last time the sides met, it was a crushingly one-sided victory as South Africa handed out New Zealand’s heaviest-ever Test defeat with a 35-7 hammering in August.

That was only eight weeks ago, but the word in the All Blacks camp was that most of their players had not properly recovered from fatigue and jet-lag after a tough training spell followed by a long haul flight to London.

The All Blacks still looked a bit rusty when they lost their opening pool match – and the first game of the tournament – 27-13 to France.

That now feels a lifetime ago, even though it was actually only September 8.

The reason it feels like a different age is because the men in black have buried it deep beneath emphatic wins over Namibia (73-8), Italy (96-17) and Uruguay (73-0).

They needed a different version of themselves – defensively formidable – to get past Ireland, 28-24, in the quarter-finals, before they overwhelmed and outclassed Argentina in a one-sided semi-final, 44-6.

The Springboks, meanwhile, began with an 18-3 win over Scotland, cranked it up with a 76-0 hammering of Romania, before also losing a pool game – 13-8 to the Irish.

Since then, they have edged and elbowed and snuck past France (29-28) in the quarters and again against England in the last four, once more by a single point, 16-15.

Both teams have tasted defeat, then, but New Zealand seems to have brushed it off more convincingly, resulting in their favourites’ tag.

But there is something about the Boks’ defiance – and the murky machinations and disco light mad-cap brilliance of their director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, that makes you just wonder if they can swing another tight contest in their favour.

On both sides there are men who know this is their last chance of more glory.

Whitelock, Retallick and the influential scrum-half Aaron Smith are surely in their last final.

The same on the Boks’ rota goes for Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth, Deon Fourie and Willie Le Roux.

No Country for Old Men? They are this weekend – both countries.

There are younger players on the bench for South Africa who are just as influential, though – such as 28-year-old prop, Ox Nche, a man who loves scrummaging so much he has launched his own clothing range, with slogans such as: Salads Don’t Win Scrums.

True, but New Zealand lamb might.

The All Blacks have their own heavyweights on the bench – none heavier than their 22-stones monster Tamaiti Williams.

Whichever way you look at it – forwards, backs, benches, coaches – this is a World Cup final of mass and density.

A big contest to end a long, gigantic tournament.

Whoever is still standing at the end will fully deserve their arm to be raised.

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