15 — ISRAEL DAGG has made the All Blacks fullback spot his own with some superb attacking rugby and his ability under the high ball. He shredded the Australian midfield twice early in the semi-final, setting up the opening try after getting outside the defense on an angled run to the right corner before unloading for unmarked Ma’a Nonu.
14 — CORY JANE has had two outstanding games on the right wing since being reprimanded for a drunken night out after the pool stage. He was voted man-of-the-match in the semi-final win over Australia, when he was phenomenal in defusing the high kicks and counterattacking the Wallabies.
13 — CONRAD SMITH is a level head in midfield who is solid in defense and knows his way to the try line.
12 — MA’A NO has been a dynamic influence in the centers all season. A blockbusting runner who can offload amid tackles and a heavy defender, Nonu is the go-to man when the All Blacks need to get over the gain line. He has been nominated for the IRB player of the year award.
11 — RICHARD KAHUI is usually a center, but has been an instant success on the left wing. He is solid in defense, looks for work in attack and has good positional sense.
10 — AARON CRUDEN has been thrust into the hotseat like no other player in the tournament. Drafted into the squad to replace injured star playmaker Dan Carter, he was thrown into the starting flyhalf role when Colin Slade also sustained a tournament-ending groin injury. The 22-year-old Cruden has settled in well, organizing the back line in knockout matches against Argentina and Australia and even landing a dropped goal in the semi-final.
9 — PIRI WEEPU has been the general of the back line since Dan Carter was ruled out, taking over kicking duties and directing the back division. He leads the haka and is second only to Richie McCaw in terms of leaders within the All Blacks group. He has re-established himself as the starting scrumhalf and, for the New Zealand public at least, has become the star of the tournament.
8 — KIERAN READ is a big, but athletic No. 8, who enjoys running with the ball and can also be inspirational in defense. He smashed Wallabies back rower Rocky Elsom at full pace in a copybook tackle that was among the enduring images of the semi-final win over Australia.
7 — RICHIE MCCAW has regained his status as the premier open-side flanker after outplaying Australia’s David Pocock in the semi-finals. A three-time world player of the year, McCaw has been slowed in training by persistent foot pain, but it has not impacted on his work rate or impact on the field. An inspirational leader, he is the most capped All Black of all time and is determined to be the first New Zealand captain since 1987 to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
6 — JEROME KAINO has become an integral part of the All Blacks back row with Read and McCaw for his phenomenal work rate and brute strength. He shut down Australia’s best scoring chance in the semi-final by picking up strong-running Wallabies winger Digby Ioane from behind and heaving him back into the field of play.
5 — SAM WHITELOCK has worked his way into the starting lineup at the World Cup and has now started in eight of the last nine Tests after earning most of his caps off the bench last year. A reliable lineout target and solid in the set-piece, he is keeping Ali Williams on the bench. He turned 23 last week and is being groomed for the future.
4 — BRAD THORN is the oldest player in the squad and one of the hardest, having played rugby league for Australia, before switching to play rugby union for his native New Zealand. His no-nonsense approach, experience and physical fitness make him an integral part of the All Blacks engine room.
3 — OWEN FRANKS has been one of the unsung heroes of the All Blacks campaign so far, packing in at tight-head beside two of the most experienced front rowers in the tournament. The All Blacks scrum has been targeted at times in the tournament, but has not taken a backward step.
2 — KEVEN MEALAMU will equal Sean Fitzpatrick’s record of 92 caps as an All Blacks hooker and is one of the rocks of the New Zealand pack. He does a power of work in the tight.
1 — TONY WOODCOCK is New Zealand’s most capped Test prop and is widely considered the best loose-held in international rugby. He recovered from an injury to make a belated start to the Test season, playing in away losses to South Africa and Australia in the Tri-Nations and starting in all six of the World Cup matches to date. He started in the 2007 quarter-final upset loss to the French in Cardiff and will no doubt be chasing redemption for that.
15 — MAXIME MEDARD took his try well in the quarter-final against England, but his poor defensive kicking in the semi-final win over Wales kept his team under pressure. Medard has yet to show his true attacking ability, although he was one of few players to emerge from the shock Tonga defeat with any credibility because of his brave tackling.
14 — VINCENT CLERChas stood out in France’s stuttering back line as a fast, determined finisher, scoring six tries in New Zealand to take his career World Cup tally to 11. He scored a clinical try in the quarter-final win against England and he was on the receiving end of Sam Warburton’s tip tackle that led to Warburton being red carded in a gritty semi-final against Wales.
13 — AURELIEN ROUGERIE has played most of his international career as a winger and has not really been convincing in his new role at center. He has done little to spark the attack, although his strong tackling is crucial to France’s midfield.
12 — MAXIME MERMOZ celebrated his first international try in exuberant style in the pool-stage defeat to New Zealand, but he has given little indication that he is a better option than tough-tackling David Marty.
11 — Alexis Palisson sat out the first three pool games with a back complaint and returned to make his World Cup debut in the humiliating loss to Tonga. He bounced back to set up Maxime Medard’s try in the quarter-final win against England.
10 — MORGAN PARRA slotted into the flyhalf role after coach Marc Lievremont preferred him to regular pivot Francois Trinh-Duc as halves partner for Dimitri Yachvili. Usually a scrumhalf, he has grown more accomplished as a back line organizer as the tournament has progressed and also filled in as goal-kicker in the semi-final, scoring all of France’s points from three penalties.
9 — DIMITRI YACHVILI put a disappointing start to the tournament behind him with an assured performance against England in the quarter-final, where he was the best player on the field before limping off with a thigh injury. He is unlikely to take the goal-kicks in the final, with flyhalf Morgan Parra likely to continue.
8 — IMANOL HARINORDOQUY finally found his form against England in the quarter-final, inspiring his teammates with the ferocious intensity of his tackling against his favorite opponents. He fell foul of coach Marc Lievremont’s erratic team selection when he was benched for the pool games against New Zealand and Tonga — France lost both those matches.
7 — JULIEN BONNA dug deep to find his best form in the knockout stage, taking his lead from Harinordoquy and keeping England and Wales at bay with committed tackling and nonstop running. He watched the last few minutes of the Wales match from the bench, having run himself into the ground.
6 — Thierry Dusautoir’scold, fixed stare as he stood in the tunnel waiting to lead his team out against England in the quarter-final summed him up. A man of few words, captain Dusuatoir leads by example through his total commitment on the field and his fierce tackling.
5 — LIONEL NALLET has done most of his work behind the scenes at the World Cup, rallying the players around stricken captain Thierry Dusautoir following the Tonga defeat and calling for more harmony within the squad. The veteran lock expects the final to be his last match for France.
4 — PASCAL PAPE did well in the lineout in the semi-final against Wales, but the way scrumhalf Mike Phillips easily sold him a dummy for Wales’ try will not have gone unnoticed by New Zealand’s halves. He will need to be at his driving best to test New Zealand’s forwards on the back foot.
3 — NICOLAS MAS’ return to the side following a troublesome hamstring coincided with France’s return to form. Considering he had no match practice, his battling performance against England in the quarter-final was one of his finest.
2 — WILLIAM SERVAT was vying for a starting place with Dimitri Szarzewski as he struggled to find his best form. However, Servat reminded everyone why he is one of rugby’s top hookers with a commanding performance in the first half against Wales when he was arguably the best player on the field.
1 — JEAN-BAPTISTE POUX’S brutally honest assessment of his team’s terrible performance against Tonga perhaps best summed up how much he cares about wearing the French jersey with pride. Poux is nearing the end of his career, but is still a formidable adversary in the front row.
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two