New Zealand All Blacks win a third Rugby World Cup title with victory over Australia
THIS IS the All Blacks’ time. Throughout the professional era, New Zealand have dominated rugby in everything but World Cups, but by becoming the first team to win back to back World Cups they have cemented their place in history while laying down a gauntlet to everyone else.
Their performance was far more impressive than their limp dismissal of France on home soil four years ago and at times it looked like they might run all over Australia who bravely battled back during an epic second-half, only to fall short.
They spent nearly the entire first-half in Wallaby territory and eventually got their reward when, after Dan Carter had established their lead through the boot, Nehe Milner-Skudder crossed in the corner and the fly-half converted to make the score 16-3 – an record first-half tally and as insurmountable as final leads get.
Just in case, Ma’a Nonu raced over for another try within minutes of the restart and, while Australia rallied and the All Blacks made some uncharacteristic errors to allow a brief hope that there might be a contest, they found their composure in time to close it out thanks to the boot of their brilliant No10.
So, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu, Nonu and Carter step away from the black jersey as world champions. Some go to France, Mealamu retires and McCaw will make up his mind in the coming weeks and months. Their greatness, however, will never be doubted.
“I’m really proud, we got the job done today,” Steve Hansen said. “It’s a great way for them to finish, you couldn’t script it any better. I’m sure we’ll celebrate it at some point.”
It was the final this great tournament deserved, although the first-half was largely one-way traffic.
New Zealand opened with a six minute attacking salvo that established the pattern of the first-half. Australia couldn’t get out of their own half and were already scrambling, Drew Mitchell brilliantly reading Aaron Smith’s clever chip, before stopping Milner-Skudder’s charge for the line. Eventually, David Pocock gave away what looked a harsh ruck penalty and Carter opened the scoring.
A rare foray into enemy territory allowed Bernard Foley level after Ben Franks collapsed a scrum, but that was only a brief respite and New Zealand should have restored their lead when Rob Simmons failed to roll away, but Aaron Smith tapped the penalty and Jerome Kaino held on under pressure from Michael Hooper.
Australia seemed to be on referee Nigel Owens’ bad side and lost further momentum when Sekope Kepu was harshly done for a late tackle on Dan Carter. They were also losing bodies, Kane Douglas went off with a knee injury while Matt Giteau was concussed tackling Brodie Retallick.
Yet the scoreboard remained in decent shape; Carter made it 6-3 when Kepu went high on the out-half, while Owens missed a blatant forward pass from Milner-Skudder in the seconds before Will Genia played the man offside and Carter extended the lead to six.
The pressure was beginning to tell and, eventually, the constant attacking reaped some reward for the All Blacks who produced a beautiful try with a minute left in the half as Conrad Smith executed a neat switch with Aaron who fed Milner-Skudder and he crossed unopposed.
Carter converted to bring the half to a close, but despite his side’s dominance Steve Hansen wanted more and sent on Sonny Bill Williams at half-time.
After a few handling drills before the kick-off, New Zealand tore into their task and looked determined to land a knock-out blow. The rugby league convert off-loaded with his first two touches, the second set Nonu free and he headed for home; fighting Mitchell off at the line to score.
Carter missed his conversion and that blip appeared to signal a short hiatus from New Zealand’s brilliance.
A Mitchell break was headed off by an excellent covering steal from McCaw, but a superbly dominant New Zealand scrum was turned on its head when the ball squirted out to Kurtley Beale who returned it down the touchline brilliantly. His carry ended up in a penalty at the ruck, Foley went to the corner and Australia knew this was their chance.
Foley found a gap, Adam Ashley Cooper was stopped short and Mitchell was halted close to the line. In stopping him, Ben Smith was found to have tipped the winger and was sent to the sin-bin. Foley went to the corner, Australia mauled it over and Pocock touched down.
Suddenly, the complexion changed and while the All Blacks looked to cover the back-field with just two men it eventually told when Beale chipped ahead for Foley who found the onrushing Tevita Kuridrani to go in under the posts.
Foley converted and it was a four point game as Smith returned.
Yet, McCaw and the New Zealand leaders didn’t doubt their team for a moment.
“I wouldn’t say we were anxious, knew momentum was against us but we’ve been in those situations before. It’s about getting the ball back, getting control. It shows the calibre of people we’ve got,” McCaw, who refused to confirm his retirement, said.
They wrested that momentum back, Carter landed a snap drop-goal to give his side some breathing space, before delivering a long-range penalty.
In the end, Australia’s desperation caught up with them as Mitchell knocked on in contact and Ben Smith hacked ahead. Beauden Barrett controlled the ball and picked it up to score. Carter converted and the celebrations could begin.
NEW ZEALAND – B Smith; N Milner-Skudder (B Barrett 65), C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; D Carter, A Smith; J Moody (B Franks 59), D Coles (K Mealamu 65), O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read.
AUSTRALIA – I Folau; A Ashley-Cooper, T Kuridrani, M Giteau (K Beale 26), D Mitchell (M Toomua 65-710; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 71); S Sio (J Slipper 59), S Moore (capt) (T Polota-Nau 56), S Kepu (G Holmes 59); K Douglas, R Simmons (D Mumm 15); S Fardy (B McCalman 61), M Hooper, D Pocock.
Referee: N Owens (Wales)