Sublime All Blacks deliver the perfect final flourish

Richie McCaw’s men leave very best for last in retaining Webb Ellis trophy

Sonny Bill Williams offloads to Ma’a Nonu, who shredded the Australia defence to score New Zealand’s second try of the final. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Sonny Bill Williams offloads to Ma’a Nonu, who shredded the Australia defence to score New Zealand’s second try of the final. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

 

New Zealand 34 Australia 17

So sometimes sport leaves no room for argument and does do perfect finales after all. The best team of the last four years were also the best team of the tournament and unquestionably the best team on the day of the final.

Dan Carter, Richie McCaw et al can ride off into the sunset with their remarkable Test careers neatly completed. For McCaw and 10 of this team, they became the first players in World Cup history to retain the trophy, with McCaw enhancing his status as not only the greatest captain the game has known and its most capped player, but perhaps simply the best, pound for pound, of all time too.

Possibly no one player epitomised more their utter command of the ball and comfort with it across so many aspects of the game than McCaw.

The All Blacks back their running game because they know they can deliver from numbers one to 15, in their decision-making and execution. The numbers on their backs don’t matter, they are merely a source of identification for the rest of us.

Bar scrummaging and goal-kicking, along with playmaking, there’s nothing else McCaw can’t do and, bar scrummaging, Carter can take care of the rest and more. Like all truly world-class players, when he is in the groove Carter always appears to have more time on the ball than anyone else.

Desperate need

Never has this appeared more the case than in the 70th minute at Twickenham. With his team-mates rocked by Australia’s comeback, he could be seen imploring calm and then oozing it. Prior to last week’s semi-final, Carter had only kicked six drop goals in Tests, partly because the All Blacks tended not to be in desperate need of them.

But then, as against South Africa, he almost surprised everybody in the ground. There seemed little time in the midfield log-jam when Aaron Smith fed him from a ruck, but Carter stepped back onto his left foot and wafted a drop goal from more than 40 metres out.

Second Captains

It was never in doubt, and thereafter, helped by his 48-metre penalty five minutes later, neither, somehow, was the outcome.

“I was just yelling at the ball ‘go, go’. I wasn’t sure if I had enough and was very relieved to see it go over,” Carter said.

In hailing him as the best outhalf ever on Friday, Steve Hansen noted how unlike many others who play in the position, Carter can and does tackle. As if to prove the point, he was New Zealand’s joint leading tackler in this final alongside the game’s outstanding lock, Sam Whitelock, with a dozen.

This was how the six-year-old boy dreamt it would be. It was a heart-warming story of redemption for Carter. Having been inside centre on the team that lost the semi-final to Australia in Sydney in 2003, been forced off in the shock quarter-final defeat to France in ’07, and then, most cruelly of all, suffered a torn groin practising his goal-kicking in the pool stages four years ago, here he was coolly guiding the New Zealand ship home, having overcome all his injuries and recaptured his form.

“I’m very grateful to be where I am after what happened four years ago – to watch my team-mates play in the final – and I was desperate to play in a World Cup at home. I’ve been working extremely hard the last four years, and I’m just so proud of the team and the way they performed tonight and all this year. Winning back-to-back World Cups is a dream come true and to play in front of so many fans out here is so amazing.”

Made history

Carter and co have made history. Their places in the pantheon of the game’s greats is now even more enhanced. “It is a pretty strong group of guys,” said Carter. “We try to do things no other team has done before, and sometimes we look at things we want to achieve and think it’s a bit too far out, but it’s such a special feeling to be part of such a great team.”

The Wallabies backrow kept their team in the game with their tackling and scavenging at the breakdown. David Pocock, along with lock Dean Mumm, was the game’s highest tackler with 13, but even the bald stats cannot accurately reflect the resistance of Pocock, Scott Fardy and Michael Hooper, and indeed Mumm.

But tellingly, while the excellent Jerome Kaino (who probably produced his best performance of the tournament), McCaw and Kieran Read hunted down their prey defensively, they also contributed way more offensively.

Collisions

Kaino, McCaw and Read each carried 12 times, for gains of 38, 27 and 26 metres. By contrast, from 21 carries, the Wallabies backrow were credited with a total of just 13 metres.

Indeed, it was across the gainline and in the collisions where the All Blacks won this game, as much through their footwork and superior skill-set from one to 15, as through their physicality. The stats suggest a fairly even contest in terms of possession and territory, thanks to the Wallabies’ marked improvement after the interval, but in the heel of the hunt they missed 27 tackles, whereas the All Blacks missed 15.

“We could easily have gone home at 40 minutes but the heart and courage in this team was such that they didn’t want to do that and battled to the end,” said Michael Cheika.

In truth, had Cheika pulled this coup off it would have shredded the scripts for winning World Cups. “I think we’ve made good ground over the last 12 months but we have got to keep going. This is just the start. We want to do really good things for Australian rugby. The more we test ourselves against New Zealand, the better we will get.”

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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