New Zealand hammered Australia 34-17 in the final on Saturday to claim their second consecutive World Cup title, reports JON CARDINELLI at Twickenham.
In the end, the 2015 World Cup story climaxed as many predicted it would. The All Blacks became the first side to win back-to-back World Cup titles, and three titles overall. The All Blacks, inspired by the inimitable Richie McCaw and steered by the unflappable Dan Carter, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are the greatest team of the professional era.
The way they went about their business in the first half was frighteningly clinical. The All Blacks drove the Wallabies back into their own territory. Wave after wave crashed into the Wallabies defence.
Australia attempted to fight the tide, and made some headway through the breakdown efforts of Michael Hooper and David Pocock. But in the end, the Black wave was all-consuming.
Carter produced a masterclass in tactical kicking and game management. The Wallabies defenders did their best to limit the All Blacks flyhalf’s space, but Carter still seemed to have all the time in the world.
His decision-making and execution allowed the All Blacks to enjoy 71% territory in the first half. Carter’s tactical probes always found space. His high bombs placed the Wallabies back three under pressure.
The Wallabies did their best to resist. They were unlucky to concede a penalty after the officials missed a forward pass by the All Blacks in the previous phase of play. Carter converted this opportunity to steer the All Blacks into a 9-3 lead.
But the All Blacks made a lot of their own luck. They continued to kick the ball in behind the Wallabies defence. Their forwards continued to hammer away. They conceded breakdown turnovers, but they still managed to trap the Wallabies in their own half.
And then, on the stroke of half-time, the Wallabies defence faltered. Conrad Smith exposed a weak point in the line, and switched with Aaron Smith. The scrumhalf shifted the ball on to McCaw, who found Nehe Milner-Skudder for the finish. The speed and precision of this impromptu assault was otherworldly. The All Blacks finally received a reward for 40 minutes of dominance.
New Zealand struck another big blow right after the break. Ma’a Nonu broke the line and then side-stepped Kurtley Beale. The 33-year-old centre showed enough pace and power to finish. Carter added the extras to stretch the All Blacks’ lead to 21-3, a massive advantage in the context of the match.
The All Blacks allowed the Wallabies back into the contest in the 52nd minute when Ben Smith made a costly mistake. The fullback was yellow-carded for a tip tackle on Drew Mitchell. The Wallabies made their one-man advantage count, scoring 14 points during Smith’s absence.
The Wallabies scored immediately after Smith’s transgression via the rolling maul. Their second try was the product of exceptional skill and awareness. Will Genia popped a well-weighted kick over the All Blacks defence for Adam Ashley-Cooper to chase. The winger timed his jump and subsequent offload to perfection. Tevita Kuridrani accepted the pass and made the opportunity count.
Foley’s conversion brought the Wallabies back within four points of their opponents, and suddenly, as the 80,000 fans inside the Twickenham cauldron acknowledged, the underdogs were in with a sniff.
The All Blacks adjusted their game and proceeded to regain control. Once again, they managed to force the Wallabies back into their own territory. In the 70th minute, Carter slipped back into the pocket for the drop goal. The strike was clean and the aim true.
Carter’s precision and composure was required again four minutes later. The All Blacks won a penalty on halfway, and McCaw pointed to the posts. Carter’s successful kick sent the All Blacks 10 points clear of the Wallabies.
But the All Blacks weren’t done yet. Smith made amends for his earlier transgression when he swooped on a loose ball and punted it downfield. Beauden Barrett beat the cover defence to the bouncing ball, controlled it superbly, and then dived over for the title-clinching score.
Carter converted to finish the evening with a personal tally of 19 points. The performance marked a perfect ending to an outstanding player’s Test career.
All Blacks – Tries: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ma’a Nonu, Beauden Barrett. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter (4). Drop goal: Carter.
Wallabies – Tries: David Pocock, Tevita Kuridrani. Conversions: Bernard Foley (2). Penalty: Foley.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images