All Blacks pick 7 from 2011 final triumph for this RWC final

BAGSHOT, England (AP) New Zealand is counting on an advantage over Australia in the Rugby World Cup final from half of its side having played in the victory in the 2011 title match.

The All Blacks on Thursday picked the same XV and reserves who beat South Africa 20-18 in the semifinals last weekend.

They include seven players who started in the 2011 final win over France, and who will run out at Twickenham on Saturday: Tighthead prop Owen Franks, lock Sam Whitelock, loose forwards Jerome Kaino, captain Richie McCaw, and Kieran Read, and centers Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

Keven Mealamu, the starting hooker in 2011, was in the reserves, along with fellow 2011 survivors Ben Franks and Sonny Bill Williams.

”It doesn’t matter what you do in life, experience is massive,” coach Steve Hansen, who was an assistant in 2011, said. ”There’s two types of experience, the ones you learn from and the ones you don’t. Hopefully, we’ve learnt enough (since 2011). When you’ve got that experience, and it’s in good form, it’s a big advantage.”

There likely would have been an eighth 2011 winner in the run-on side, but loosehead prop Tony Woodcock tore his hamstring in the last pool game against Tonga. He’s stayed with the team to advise his replacement, Joe Moody. Moody started against South Africa only after Wyatt Crockett strained his groin in the quarterfinal win over France.

Hansen said he was always going to start the same XV in the final, and choose Crockett in the reserves. But after training on Thursday, Crockett aggravated the groin and had to withdraw.

”When it came to this tournament, we wanted to try and get to the busy end pretty solid on selection,” Hansen said. ”We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that. Our medical crews have worked hard on player recovery, and we’ve had very limited injuries. So we’re very lucky.”

Moody was playing in the New Zealand championship at the start of this month, and finds his 11th test cap will be a Rugby World Cup final.

”It’s a bit surreal, but at the same time I’m still preparing the same way for any other game,” he said. ”This has just got bigger consequences, bigger rewards, and a bit more pressure.”

Hansen said the biggest challenge for the coaches this week had been to keep the players grounded, ”not get too excited too early,” and build them up slowly day by day.

”We’ve just had to make sure we don’t get carried away with ourselves, because it’s a final, and do things different,” he said. ”The formula is pretty proven for us, we know what works for us, and sticking to that, and making good decisions.”

New Zealand is bidding to become the first team to win consecutive World Cups, and a third.

”In our minds we have never been defenders,” Hansen said. ”We knew we would have to earn the right … so being in the final is very satisfying in its own right, as it’s the first Rugby World Cup final an All Blacks team has made in the UK.

”But the ultimate goal has always been to win it.”

The All Blacks were humbled by Australia 27-19 in the Rugby Championship decider in Sydney in August. But back home the following week, they smashed the Wallabies 41-13 to retain the Bledisloe Cup. For the return match, New Zealand dropped Kaino and played Victor Vito, and put pressure on him and No. 8 Read to give McCaw more support in the breakdown fight against Australia’s David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy.

Kaino has stayed in the No. 6 jersey for the final, with Vito in the reserves.

”They (Pocock and Hooper) are obviously a threat, along with Fardy, who is playing pretty well, too, but Australia have got enough good players for us to be worried about them all,” Hansen said.

For the first half of the week at least, the Wallabies played mind games with New Zealand by refusing to use their All Blacks nickname.

Hansen didn’t know they were doing that until informed at his team announcement.

”They can call us whatever they want,” he said. ”Being Aussies, they probably will.”

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams.