New Zealand made history at Twickenham, surviving a comeback from Australia to win 34-17 and become 2015 Rugby World Cup champions.
The Wallabies bravely defied the odds to claw their way back from 21-3 down to make it 21-17 in the second half, but it wasn’t to be their day.
Instead Steve Hansen’s extraordinary side became the first team to win three World Cups, and the first to win consecutive titles.
In the process they tore to shreds that nagging old record of having never won a World Cup away from home soil and sent off Richie McCaw and Dan Carter on the final high that their illustrious careers deserved.
It’s the oldest cliché but points right before half-time are like a sledgehammer, except this time the Wallabies took one to the stomach either side of the break thanks to tries from Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ma’a Nonu.
However, Australia scored twice during Ben Smith’s period in the sin-bin – thanks to David Pocock’s effort from a maul and Tevita Kuridrani – to bring a Halloween fixture that looked dead very much back to life.
Carter, finally playing on the game’s biggest stage, stepped up with a drop goal followed by a 49-metre penalty to put the All Blacks definitively out of reach.
Big hits in the first minute from Owen Franks and Conrad Smith and a chargedown set the tone, the beginning of a seven-minute assault inside the Wallabies’ half which ended with Carter scoring the game’s first points through a penalty.
Pocock and the Wallabies have been kings of the turnovers at this World Cup but the All Blacks were prominent early on, thrice stealing the ball out of Australia’s hands.
Franks’ bind on the arm of Scott Sio allowed Foley to level the scores at 3-3 after 12 minutes, just before Kane Douglas departed early with a knee injury.
The pressure was obvious – a decision to tap by New Zealand close to the Australian line backfiring as the Wallabies won the penalty.
Penalties against Sekope Kepu for two dangerous tackles were spot-on calls from the referee, the latter allowing Carter to put New Zealand back ahead on 26 minutes as Matt Giteau departed for a Head Injury Assessment that brought his remarkable return to the World Cup stage to a sorry end.
New Zealand then got a lucky break – Nehe Milner-Skudder’s forward pass somehow going undetected by either the referee or his assistant Wayne Barnes before Carter was set up to make it 9-3 from out wide.
The same winger then finished off a moment of magic. With the Wallabies defence creaking before half-time, Conrad Smith’s deep inside pass set the All Blacks up for a second wave as Aaron Smith and Richie McCaw fluidly moved the ball out wide to Milner-Skudder for a try a minute ahead of the interval. Exquisite; there’s no other way to describe it.
Carter’s conversion, perfection from the sideline, gave the All Blacks a monster 16-3 half-time lead. Seven clean breaks to none from Australia and domination of the possession (68 percent) and territory (76 percent) were damning statistics.
Conrad Smith’s Test career came to an end when he was replaced during the break by Sonny Bill Williams. Not that because of it the All Blacks were worse off.
Williams produced two offloads instantly but the second one was key, finding Nonu. The future Toulon star tore through a stretched Australia defence before twisting Kurtley Beale inside out and powering over to score.
Now 21-3 it felt as though Australia were done, but a yellow card to Ben Smith for a tip tackle on Drew Mitchell created the opportunity to get the rolling maul on the charge. As we’ve seen so often this year Pocock scored from the tail, Foley converting to close the gap.
The comeback was on, and Australia were right back in it when Kuridrani finished off a fine chip and take by Foley. The fly-half converted to make it a four-point game.
Carter’s drop goal came just at the right time, a sublime effort from 40 metres and then a long-range penalty just inside Australia’s half stretching the lead to 27-17 with less than ten minutes remaining.
There was time for one more moment of inspiration. Breaking out from their own half Ben Smith kicked ahead with Beauden Barrett leading the chase to dot down to spark rapturous celebrations on the sidelines.
Now, at last, it feels like New Zealand have truly backed up their dominance of the sport with the silverware to show for it. Australia never gave up, but we are living in the golden age of the All Blacks.
Man of the Match: The all-time leading Test points scorer bows out on top. Dan Carter, on sublime form, finished with 19 points.
Moment of the Match: The game seemed long over but Tevita Kuridrani’s score to make it 21-17 was an unexpected twist that set up a thrilling finish.
Villian of the Match: The tip tackle from Ben Smith was a little careless, but nothing major.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Milner-Skudder, Nonu, Barrett
Cons: Carter 3
Pens: Carter 4
Drop Goal: Carter
Yellow Card: B Smith
Tries: Pocock, Kuridrani
Cons: Foley 2
Australia: 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.
Replacements: 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.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel 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.
Replacements: 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.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Wayne Barnes (England)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)