As the curtain came down on Rugby World Cup 2015 on Saturday evening, New Zealand’s class of 2015 took their own special place in sporting history; becoming the first rugby nation to successfully defend a Rugby World Cup title. A 34-17 final victory over a spirited Australian team saw Richie McCaw become the first rugby captain to lead a side to two World Cup triumphs, as the All Blacks produced a performance of scintillating attacking rugby worthy of champions. With the match likely to represent the final matches in the Silver Fern jersey for legends such as McCaw, Carter, Nonu, Smith and Mealamu, the final proved to be the fairy-tale ending which each of those great players deserved.
With Australia coming into the final, having overcome big hurdles such as England, Wales and Scotland to get to the final, Steve Hansen’s men knew they would have to produce their most complete performance of the tournament to get past a Wallabies side revitalised under coach Michael Cheika over the last 12 months. With both sets of players equally fired up, the key for both sides was to keep their cool. In a frenetic start, the All Blacks showcased their intent with some ferocious running rugby which eventually saw the Wallabies concede a penalty for which Dan Carter duly converted. Having been pegged back by a penalty from the equally reliable Aussie stand-off Bernard Foley, the mercurial Carter added two more penalties to increase the All Blacks lead to 9-3. Despite the lead, the first half was proving frustrating for a New Zealand side who were on top in both possession and territory, but were continually stopped in their tracks by the work at the breakdown of the inspirational Wallabies back-row. However, it seemed inevitable that with all the pressure being exerted something would give, and right on the stroke of half-time the champions struck with a typically well-worked team try seeing quick suttle hands from the two Smiths (Conrad and Aaron) and McCaw putting winger Nehe Milner-Skudder in for the opening try of the 2015 final. With Australia 16-3 down at the break, things were not looking good for a Wallabies side who had already seen both Kane Douglas and Matt Giteau leave the field with injuries, and things soon got worse at the start of the second-half. In what will surely go down as the defining moment of this World Cup final, New Zealand centre Sonny Bill Williams somehow managed to offload the ball with two Australian defenders around him to centre partner Nonu, who produced a wonderful arcing run to the line leaving several Aussie defenders trailing in his wake, as he secured the decisive try that looked to have taken the game away from their opponents. Despite a missed conversion by Carter, the All Blacks went into the final half-hour with a commanding 21-3 lead, before Australia threatened to produce one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. With Kiwi full-back Ben Smith sent to the sin-bin by referee Nigel Owens, Australia made their extra-man advantage count with first the talismanic figure of David Pocock pushing over the try-line from the back of a rolling maul, before quick-thinking from scrum-half Will Genia and half-back partner Foley put Tevita Kuridrani in for a score that reduced New Zealand’s lead to just four points with over fifteen minutes to play. As full-back Smith returned after a costly ten-minute period for his side, the All Blacks had to find a way to turn the momentum back in their favour. Step up, Dan Carter. Just as he had done in the semi-final victory over South Africa, New Zealand’s No.10 stepped back to execute an audacious drop-goal that pushed New Zealand’s lead out to seven points. As Australia infringed at the scrum on the edge of the half-way line, Carter once again stepped up to land a monstrous penalty kick from distance to push New Zealand closer to the Webb Ellis Cup. With a little under five minutes to play and needing a converted score just to get within three points of New Zealand, Australia desperately flung the ball around looking for gaps in the All Blacks defence. As the Aussie backline searched in vain, Drew Mitchell knocked the ball on with Ben Smith picking the ball up before expertly weaving his way round a couple of Aussie defenders to put in a kick which was chased down by substitute Beauden Barrett who clinched victory with a late try, that saw the likes of Carter and Nonu bow out of international rugby as World champions.
A fitting end to a wonderful tournament, the antipodean rivals played out probably the best final ever seen in World Cup history, with New Zealand proving worthy winners over a Wallabies side who fully deserved their place in the final after a wonderful tournament.