New Zealand retain World Cup title as they hold off brave Australia fightback

Wallabies got back to within four points before All Blacks pulled clear at Twickenham

 

New Zealand 34 Australia 17

Simply the best, and perhaps now the best of all time. In any event, it’s hard to argue a case for a better team in the history of the game.

The All Blacks are champions of the world again and all is right in the world, in New Zealand at any rate. You either have it or you don’t, and these All Blacks have it, none more so than Dan Carter. Successive World Cups for New Zealand, redemption for Carter. He, and most probably the brilliant Richie McCaw, along with other stellar names in this remarkable side, can retire happily from Test rugby now. And with 19 points and 12 tackles in the final, Carter’s man of the match reward was deserved in a list of standout performers.

The best team in the world for the last four years, and indeed for the last eight years and a good deal more, are the world champions, and utterly, completely, deservedly so. That it wasn’t quite the classic final we hoped, although it was still probably the best of the eight to date – with the most tries and points scored – was because the All Blacks were too good.

This final showcased why they have been the best, and why they have won 54 of their last 57 matches, in the manner they owned the ball and used it for long stretches. There is just a comfort, skills set and composure on the ball. They back their running game because they know they can deliver from numbers one to 15, in their decision-making and execution, and they invariably do. The numbers on their backs really don’t matter, they are merely a source of identification for the rest of us.

Their locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock appeared to be everywhere, and Kieran Read ran off an initial injury with a host of big plays to augment his down and dirty work, as did the outstanding McCaw. The captain marked the occasion with close to the full range of his game, big tackles and excellent skills, and as in the semi-final garnished the occasion with a try-scoring pass.

Aaron Smith saved his best game of the tournament for the final, and outside of the imperious Carter few others put a foot wrong. The livewire Ben Smith was probably the best outside back on the pitch, full of steps and offloads

The Wallabies rolled with quite a few punches and didn’t get the rub of the green from the officials. They were kept in the game by their backrow and the gameness of their defence, but tellingly, not one of Scott Fardy, David Pocock or Michael Hooper made even 10 metres, while all of Jerome Kaino, McCaw and Read did. Almost single-handedly at times, Drew Mitchell was straining every sinew to haul them back into the game, and Bernard Foley kept probing and probing too.

When they struck back from an imposing 21-3 deficit with two tries of their own, slightly incredibly, unfathomably, we had a match. But it was always against the odds, and once Carter steadied his team-mates with a drop goal and a penalty, he and they could almost touch the Webb Ellis Trophy.

You could tell this was different from a normal visit to Twickenham by the All Blacks even before the start, as not only were both anthems afforded total respect but so too, for once, was their haka, which is normally drowned out by boorish booing and singing of Swing Low when they play England.

The first exchanges all went with the All Blacks, as their defence put in big hits and kept the Wallabies behind the gain line, before Ma’a Nonu brilliantly stepped Tevita Kuridrani and then went through Foley. Mitchell had to be alive to a little grubber off the scrum from Aaron Smith.

Swing Low was belted out in the fifth minute just as Read hit the ground hard from a lineout take but, heavily strapped, he ran it off.

This was the World Cup final after all.

The All Blacks were also generating way more heat at the breakdown, where Conrad Smith and Retallick both engineered turnovers in contact. When Matt Giteau and Israel Folau combined to stop the rampaging Julian Savea in his tracks, Giteau was adjudged not to have rolled away and Carter opened the scoring.

The first respite for Australia came in the 12th minute when a knock-on by Ben Smith afforded them a scrum, at which Owen Franks was penalised for illegal binding and Foley drew the sides level.

However, they soon lost Kane Douglas to an ankle injury after he landed awkwardly when beaten to the ensuing restart by Whitelock. Aaron Smith surprisingly eschewed a certain three points with a tap, from which Kaino was penalised when Hooper was quickly in for the poach. He and Pocock had worked in tandem superbly on Savea for a turnover, and Fardy would make another, but these were the only scraps going for them in what was a loaves-and-fishes job for the Wallabies.

Giteau unluckily followed Douglas to the sidelines with concussion when putting his head in the wrong angle when tackling Retallick before Carter made it 6-3.

The Wallabies asked a few questions of the All Blacks’ defence, but did so narrowly and got nowhere. When granted a rare attacking lineout, Stephen Moore overthrew and the All Blacks moved the ball easily across their line to give Nehe Milner-Skudder a run up the touchline. Kurtley Beale, on for the stricken Giteau, did make a brilliant take in the air, but he was prevented from breaking out by an equally brilliant tackle by Nonu.

The All Blacks weren’t giving the Wallabies a look into the game.

Nearing half-time, the All Blacks’ supremacy finally began to tell where it mattered most. They were fortunate to go 9-3 up when Carter landed his third penalty out of three from wide out after referee Nigel Owens and his touch judge Wayne Barnes missed the most blatant of forward passes by Nehe Milner-Skudder to Kieran Read. Even when Owens asked if the pass had been forward the hapless Barnes said it was fine.

From the restart it was as if the All Blacks turned on a switch. Carter broke out initially, with McCaw in support for the offload, and when Ben Smith also broke from the restart, there was McCaw once more. They were fortunate when Retallick wasn’t penalised for handling the ball from an offside position, but as the wave of recycling and keeping the ball alive intensified, you sensed what would happen next.

Aaron Smith went blind to Conrad Smith, who straightened and turned for the scrumhalf to take the return and pass flat to McCaw, whose swift transfer to Milner-Skudder ensured the try. Carter, unerringly and unsurprisingly, closed out the half with the touchline conversion. There had never been much of a contest to begin with, but at 16-3 it already looked like game over.

Within two minutes of the restart, it certainly did. Sonny Bill Williams had replaced Conrad Smith, for Nonu to switch to outside centre, and with his first two touches Williams added two more offloads to his tally of 14 – by some distance the highest in the tournament. From the second, an offload out of three tackles, Nonu took a wonderful line infield to beak clear from inside half-way, and then stepped Beale to take Mitchell’s tackle and score.

At 21-3 the Wallabies were staring down the barrel. But they’re nothing if not brave. They began running it from deep, Mitchell making a clean break and then stepping back inside when he had more support to his outside. When the All Blacks steamrollered the Wallabies at scrum time, Aaron Smith’s pass made Milner-Skudder check before he scooted up the wing, Beale scooped up the offload inside to threaten a break out only to be hounded down by a posse of men in black.

But the Wallabies kept coming, and with Foley constantly probing, they put together their first sustained attack with Foley and Adam Ashley-Cooper coming close to a try before Ben Smith tip tackled Mitchell and was yellow-carded.

Better still for the Wallabies, a patient and sustained drive off the ensuing line-out saw Pocock at its apex to score his third such try of the tournament. Hooper prevented Williams from making an offload that would probably have led to a try, they moved the ball from deep and Foley found acres of space with a huge kick.

When Milner-Skudder missed touch, from the recycle Will Genia box kicked very cleverly for Foley, lurking on the touchline, to gather and offload for Kuridrani to arc infield and score. Foley’s conversion made it 21-17.

But you can’t buy experience either, and as he showed against the Pumas first up and last week, Carter had the composure to steady an All Blacks ship that was briefly rocking. First, with little space from an Aaron Smith pass, he stepped back onto his left foot to land another drop goal from just outside the 10-metre with that lazy swing of his left foot, as he’d done a week previously.

After the frontrows were all replaced, Owens correctly pinged Australia’s for collapsing, and Carter landed the penalty from two metres inside half-way to make it a two-score game.

The Wallabies hammered away, going from touchline to touchline, but with McCaw typifying their resistance, Ben Smith used his footwork to scamper away upfield from a spillage by Mitchell. The fullback’s kick saw Beauden Barrett outsprint Pocock, hack on and gather a favourable bounce for the final nail in the Wallabies’ coffin.

These Wallabies didn’t deserve that, but then these All Blacks probably did.

Having received their medals and completed their lap of honour, all 31 players in their squad performed one more traditional haka. They looked like one of the most contented group of players of all time as well.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 8 mins Carter pen 3-0; 14 mins Foley pen 3-3; 27 mins Carter pen 6-3; 35 mins Carter pen 9-3; 39 mins Milner-Skudder try, Carter con 16-3; (half-time 16-3) 42 mins Nonu try, Carter con 21-3; 52 mins Pocock try, Foley con 21-10; 64 mins Kuridrani try, Foley con 21-17; 70 mins Carter drop goal 24-17; 75 mins Carter pen 27-17; 79 mins Barrett try, Carter con 34-17.

NEW ZEALAND: B Smith; N Milner-Skudder, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; D Carter, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; J Kaino, R McCaw, K Read.

Replacements: S-B Williams for C Smith (half-time), C Faumuina for O Franks (54 mins), B Franks for Moody (58 mins), B Barrett for Milner-Skudder (64 mins), K Mealamu for Coles (65 mins), T Kerr-Barlow for A Smith, V Vito for Kaino (both 71 mins), S Cane for McCaw (80 mins). Sin Bin: B Smith (52 mins).

AUSTRALIA: I Folau; A Ashley-Cooper, T Kuridrani, M Giteau, D Mitchell; B Foley, W Genia; S Sio, S Moore, S Kepu; K Douglas, R Simmons; S Fardy, M Hooper, DPocock.

Replacements: D Mumm for Douglas (15 mins), K Beale for Giteau (27 mins), T Polota-Nau for Moore (55 mins), J Slipper for Sio, G Holmes for Kepu (both 59 mins), B McCalman for Fardy (60 mins), M Toomua for Mitchell (65-71 mins), N Phipps for Genia (65 mins).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

Attendance: 80,125

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