NEW ZEALAND 34 AUSTRALIA 17
Rejoicing: New Zealand players celebrate their team’s second try scored by Ma’a Nonu. Photo: Mike Hewitt
New Zealand have survived a stunning two-try Australian fightback to be crowned back-to-back world champions in a thrilling World Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.
On the attack: Michael Hooper takes on the New Zealand defence during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham. Photo: Shaun Botterill
A masterclass from New Zealand No.10 Dan Carter, who finally had his World Cup moment after injury cruelled his campaign four years back, wrested victory from the clutches of a spirited Australian comeback. His drop goal and long-range penalty in the final 10 minutes will be replayed as the decisive points of the tournament.
The Wallabies will be justifiably proud of their spirited fight but will also rue an error-strewn first half when the occasion appeared to drown out their voice.
Michael Cheika talked throughout the tournament of the Wallabies playing their music. They did so too late, and their run of eight straight Test wins appeared to fold in front of their eyes, as New Zealand reduced their trans-Tasman foes to spectators with two tries, two minutes either side of half-time.
A 10-minute flurry kept the dream alive, David Pocock scoring while the All Blacks were down a man and some superb vision from winger Adam Ashley-Cooper putting Tevita Kuridrani over with 15 minutes left.
Carter’S drop goal widened the gap to seven just as Wallabies fans allowed themselves to countenance an upset. But the gap was too far to breach and a Beauden Barrett try two minutes from the final buzzer was the nail in the coffin.
It was the final that was meant to be, if sport has anything at all to do with destiny and not a series of moments, small battles, stitched together. New Zealand won far more of them, bottom line.
It was the last time the world would see Richie McCaw, Dan Carter Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Kevin Mealamu in an All Blacks jersey, and a fitting climax to their brilliant Test careers, not least of all a 42nd minute try to Nonu.
Nerves bubbled to the surface in the opening minutes.
A busting run from Nonu off the back of a New Zealand lineout heaped pressure on the Australian line. The Wallabies’ scramble defence held strong, but the All Blacks looked lethal given space.
All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read required medical attention on his right ankle, but was strapped up and played on while Carter kicked the All Blacks on to the scoreboard with a penalty goal in the eighth minute.
A series of turnovers worried the Wallabies, as Israel Folau was isolated under the high ball and Conrad Smith stripped Matt Giteau.
They won the chance to equalise when the New Zealand scrum was penalised, and Bernard Foley made it 3-3 in the 14th minute.
Kane Douglas’ World Cup campaign ended in the 15th minute with an ankle injury, replaced by Dean Mumm.
The Pooper continued to make the difference for Australia as the Wallabies struggled to contain the All Blacks’ attack. With the New Zealanders swarming the Australian line, the twin opensides turned the ball over to relieve the pressure.
Australian tighthead Sekope Kepu was penalised for a marginally late hit on Carter, and a penalty against Rob Simmons in the line out wasted the excellent efforts of Scott Fardy and his back-row teammates who worked so hard to win the battle of the breakdown.
Carter made it 6-3 in the 27th minute after his second run in with Kepu. This time a high tackle gifted New Zealand the lead, with the blow compounded when Giteau was sent for a concussion test and did not return. Kurtley Beale replaced him.
A penalty against Will Genia handed Carter the chance to make it 9-3 even as the big screen showed a forward pass from Nehe Milner-Skudder to Jerome Kaino.
But the Wallabies had few to blame other than themselves for wasted opportunities in possession.
As the clock wound down on the first half the All Blacks struck, Milner-Skuder touching down in the corner thanks to a break from Conrad Smith. Carter converted to make it 16-3.
Australia were watching their World Cup dream slip away when Nonu took a Sonny Bill Williams offload, gunned through on the inside and smoked a stumbling Beale to score in his Test swansong.
Carter missed his first kick of the night but it made no material difference when the 21-3 scoreline said it all.
The Wallabies built up a head of steam and a yellow card against Ben Smith after a tip tackle on Drew Mitchell opened the door for an Australian fightback.
The Australian forwards rumbled towards the try line and Pocock scored off the back of the maul in the 53rd minute. Foley converted to reduce the deficit to 11 points with 30 minutes left on the clock and Hooper assumed the captaincy when Tatafu Polota-Nau replaced Moore.
Kuridrani gave further hope to the fairytale upset, when the Fijian-born centre took a ball from Adam Ashley-Cooper to score in the 64th minute.
Foley converted and the Australians were within four points, but a Carter drop goal put New Zealand seven points out with 10 minutes left and his fourth penalty goal made it 10 points in the 74th minute.
Barrett put it beyond reach with a minute left on the clock and Carter, fittingly, had the final say, kicking his country to a 34-17 World Cup triumph.
“It’s a special feeling to be part of such a great team,” Carter said.