NEW Zealand made sporting history at Twickenham as they became the first team to be crowned Rugby World Cup winners for a second successive time.
Tries in each half by wing Nehe Milner-Skudder and centre Ma’a Nonu, followed by a late Beauden Barrett breakaway score, plus 19 points from All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter – including an important late drop-goal – in his 112th and final Test before joining French club Racing 92, saw New Zealand home 34-17.
It extended their record world cup winning run to 14 Tests, and means the Webb Ellis Cup will remain New Zealand’s property as they claimed a third world crown since the competition began 28 years ago.
But they were briefly given a second-half scare when Australia threatened a remarkable fightback from 18 points adrift after 42 minutes as No.8 David Pocock and centre Tevita Kuridrani scored tries, with stand-off Bernard Foley converting both following an earlier penalty.
It proved to be a pulsating final, brilliantly refereed by Welshman Nigel Owens, but New Zealand had enough in the tank to guarantee a winning farewell to Test rugby for the likes of Carter, Nonu, Conrad Smith and – probably – 148 times-capped Captain Marvel Richie McCaw.
The tournament’s best two teams played out a thrilling spectacle, with Australia often giving as good as they got, but New Zealand ultimately possessed a mastery of the key moments as they dug deep into rich resources of experience to see them home.
New Zealand dominated the early exchanges, with Nonu proving a particular threat, and it was no surprise when Carter booted the All Blacks into a seventh-minute lead through an angled penalty.
While Carter’s accuracy was never in doubt, there were more concerns surrounding All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read, who required treatment for a foot injury before appearing to run things off and being able to continue.
It was Australia who suffered the first major injury blow – albeit after Foley had tied things up with a penalty – when lock Kane Douglas limped off following prolonged treatment to be replaced by former Exeter captain Dean Mumm.
New Zealand continued to dominate in terms of territory, but their attacking plays were met by an immense Australian defence.
Carter restored New Zealand’s advantage through a 26th-minute penalty, with Australia forced to regroup after centre Matt Giteau went off for a head injury to be replaced by Kurtley Beale, who went on to the wing, with Adam Ashley-Cooper moving into midfield.
But the closing stages of the opening period were dominated by New Zealand, with Carter completing a penalty hat-trick before New Zealand finally breached Australia’s defence.
Slick passing ended with centre Conrad Smith finding McCaw in support, and the skipper’s off-load resulted in Milner-Skuder collecting his sixth try of the tournament.
Carter’s touchline conversion gave New Zealand a 16-3 interval advantage, and there appeared no way back for Australia, well behind on the scoreboard and having offered little in attack.
New Zealand made an interval switch, sending on Sonny Bill Williams for Conrad Smith, but Australia knew they had to score first or face being dumped out of the contest.
Inevitably, the All Blacks had other ideas, and they surged further ahead when Nonu gathered a loose ball and set off on an arcing run that led to him claiming a superb opportunist try.
Despite Carter drifting his conversion attempt narrowly wide, New Zealand led by 18 points, meaning that Australia required one of rugby’s greatest comebacks to deny the All Blacks another world title. New Zealand, though, did not help themselves when full-back Ben Smith was yellow-carded for a clumsy tackle on Wallabies wing Drew Mitchell, and Australia capitalised immediately with a close-range try for Pocock that Foley converted.
And it got better for the Wallabies just 11 minutes later when Kuridrani was worked clear in space, and his power took him to the line for a try that Foley again converted, making it 21-17 inside the final quarter.
Carter, though, sealed the deal, landing a drop-goal and then a long-range penalty as he stepped up to the plate when it mattered in his first World Cup final at the fourth attempt, before Barrett’s runaway score as the clock ticked down finished Australia off.
It was, though, an occasion to savour, and gave a memorable England 2015 tournament an outstanding finish.
New Zealand: Smith, Milner-Skudder, Smith, Nonu, Savea, Carter, Smith, Read, McCaw (c), Kaino, Whitelock, Retallick, Franks, Coles, Moody. Subs: Mealamu, Franks, Faumuina, Vito, Cane, Kerr-Barlow, Barrett, Williams.
Australia: Folau, Ashley-Cooper, Kuridrani, Giteau, Mitchell, Foley, Genia, Pocock, Hooper, Fardy, Simmons, Douglas, Kepu, Moore (c), Sio. Subs: Polota-Nau, Slipper, Holmes, Mumm, McCalman, Phipps, Toomua, Beale.
Referee: N Owens (WRFU). Attendance: 80,125.