Dan Carter finished his Test career with 19 points as New Zealand became the first team to successfully defend the World Cup title after a 34-17 victory over arch-rivals Australia on Saturday.
Carter’s man of the match performance more than made up for his missing out on the victory on home soil in 2011 because of an injury suffered during that tournament.
New Zealand became the first team to win the trophy three times although they had to withstand a ferocious fightback from 21-3 down by Australia.
When the Wallabies had closed to within three points of the All Blacks in the second half, Carter struck with a monstrous drop goal and a 50 metre penalty to decide the game.
With three tries, two converted, and a further three Carter penalties the All Blacks put on a brilliant show, spoiled only by Ben Smith becoming the first player to be sin-binned in a final.
Richie McCaw, in what may have been his international swansong raised the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time in four years after 80 minutes of high-octane rugby.
Carter, who has confirmed it was his 112th and final Test scored 19 points to stretch his world record to 1,598.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 31, 2015
The Wallabies put up a stubborn resistance for much of the first half but the speed of the All Blacks and passes proved too much for them.
The Australians resistance broke just before half-time, when Conrad Smith, Aaron Smith and McCaw all combined to put Nehe Milner Skudder over in the corner.
Sonny Bill Williams, who replaced Conrad Smith at half-time, produced two classy off-loads with his first touches. The second put Ma’a Nonu on a 40 metre run to the line.
Before a capacity crowd of 80,125, it put the All Blacks ahead 21-3.
The Wallabies came back with two converted tries in the middle of the second half when the All Blacks were down to 14-men with Ben Smith in the sin-bin.
David Pocock crossed from a lineout drive and Tevita Kuridrani scored when Australia counter-attacked after Milner-Skudder missed touch with a clearing kick.
The two wings with places in the record books at stake, Julian Savea and Drew Mitchell were unable to cross the line.
Savea finishes the tournament with eight tries, equalling the record for a single World Cup set by Jonah Lomu (1999) and Bryan Habana (2007).
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 31, 2015
Mitchell signed off without adding to his 14 career World Cup tries, one behind the record also shared by Lomu and Habana.
Australia kicked off but were almost immediately forced back into their own half when Nonu stepped around Sekope Kepu to get the All Blacks up to the Wallaby line.
They threatened on the right side with Milner-Skudder then on the left with Savea before winning a penalty for Carter to put the first points on the board.
Although the All Blacks were applying the early pressure a series of errors allowed Australia into the game.
A kick for the corner went out on the full, a Carter clearing kick did not go out and when Australia kicked Ben Smith knocked on.
At the resulting scrum the All Blacks front row was penalised and Bernard Foley landed the equalising penalty.
New Zealand blew a chance to regain the lead when awarded a handy penalty which scrum-half Aaron Smith decided to run with rather than let Carter have a shot at goal.
Smith then found himself penalised when tackled near the posts.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 31, 2015
Wallaby prop Kepu warned once for a late tackle on Carter gave away another penalty for a high tackle on the New Zealand fly-half.
This time Smith contained himself and allowed Carter to kick the points.
After Carter landed his third penalty the All Blacks produced the opening try of the game, just before half-time with Conrad Smith, Aaron Smith and McCaw all featuring in the move to put Milner-Skudder over for the All Blacks to turn 16-3 ahead.
Williams, who came on for Conrad Smith at the break, produced two sensational off-loads with his first two touches of the ball, to set up Nonu’s try.
The Pocock and Kuridrani tries saw Australia close the gap to 21-17 before Carter, the man of the match, landed his drop goal and penalty.
Beauden Barrett then scored the shutout try with Carter landing the conversion.
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Unsung hero Wayne Smith has been hailed as a driving force in New Zealand’s bid to make history by retaining the World Cup.
Much-vaunted defence specialist Smith guided the Chiefs to Super Rugby success before returning to the All Blacks and adding an extra level of frugality to Steve Hansen’s already mean-spirited rearguard cordon.
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“It’s been pretty good having Smithy back in the camp,” said hooker Keven Mealamu, preparing for his final All Blacks match in Saturday’s World Cup final against Australia. “With guys understanding their roles, he’s been able to put some good systems in place for us.
“But it’s just been good having old Smithy back. Wayne’s got a really good rapport with the players.
“He’s a very smart man. He sees a lot of things a player doesn’t usually pick up on and he’s great at getting his teaching across.
“It’s been really handy having him back.
“His attention to detail really adds to the coaching group we’ve had for the last couple of years.”
New Zealand have conceded just three tries throughout their inexorable march to a second successive World Cup final.
The All Blacks will become the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Cup with victory this weekend, with Richie McCaw set to go down as the best captain in the history of the game.
Veteran hooker Mealamu will end his All Blacks career in Saturday’s World Cup final, likely to earn his 132nd cap off the bench.
Along with Dan Carter, McCaw, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, the 36-year-old is aiming to exit the Test arena in unrivalled style.
The All Blacks have been at excruciating pains not to hype up their emotions ahead of facing Michael Cheika’s Wallabies.
Mealamu reiterated the party line that the All Blacks will only address the reality of the passing of a clutch of all-time greats once Saturday’s match is done and dusted.
The Blues hooker did however admit he had no idea he would be able to stretch out his Test career for another four years when New Zealand claimed the 2011 title.
“It wasn’t until the next year that I even started to consider it,” said Mealamu.
“For a personal goal I thought how amazing it would be to go to another.
“With the opportunity to play in another final, I’m close to that goal.
“I’m just really pleased to be in this position, to have the opportunity to do this.”
Insisting New Zealand must strike out all thoughts of glory and complete their meticulous preparations, Mealamu said: “I just think it’s an exciting challenge that we’re really walking towards.
“We’ve got an opportunity to do it, so there’s still plenty of days we need to make sure we get right to enable us to do what we want to achieve. It’s a pretty cool opportunity.”
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe admits he is “devastated” that Argentina’s World Cup dream ended at the penultimate knockout stage.
The Pumas’ memorable push for glory was halted by a 29-15 semi-final defeat against Australia at Twickenham, which means they now face South Africa in Friday’s bronze medal match.
Argentina won many admirers for their thrilling attacking style of play, and while 70 times-capped Lobbe has vowed such a refreshing approach will continue, he could not mask disappointment that they came up short.
“There are no regrets,” he said. “Last week (against Ireland) every bounce went our way, and we went out with the same ideas against Australia, but they dominated the breakdown and every bounce went their way. It is always tough to play catch-up rugby at this level.
“The only regret would be if we didn’t give it everything and we didn’t believe in what we were doing.
“We are devastated. We had a dream for us to play next Saturday, not Friday, but we got in front of a really good team and they never give up. I’m really amazed with how they defended.
“We threw everything we had, but we couldn’t score and that was the difference. I think it is horrible to lose in a semi-final.”
The future, though, is bright for Argentina. A top-four World Cup finish is guaranteed, repeating their achievement at the 2007 tournament in France, while they also beat South Africa during this year’s Rugby Championship.
And, in addition, a new Buenos Aires-based franchise is preparing to take part in the 2016 Super Rugby competition, therefore further broadening Argentina’s rugby union horizons.
“I am very excited about it,” flanker Lobbe added. “I think the players, the people in charge, everyone has the right mindset and they are staying humble. So if they stay humble and keep working hard and keep enjoying it, we can look at the future with a lot of excitement.
“They are going to play Super Rugby, they are going to play the Rugby Championship and they are going to be together the entire year.”