New Zealand hold off #Australia fightback to win Rugby World Cup
Wellington, New Zealand ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – New Zealand have become the first side to retain the Rugby World Cup and win the trophy three times courtesy of a 34-17 victory over Australia in a thrilling final at Twickenham this evening.
The Trans-Tasman rivals were meeting on the biggest stage in rugby for the first time ever, with history promising to be made whatever the outcome.
It was New Zealand who made the brighter start to proceedings, and their domination of the early territory and possession proved to be a theme of the first half as they kept Australia, without a World Cup triumph since 1999, under pressure.
The battles at the breakdown between World Player of the Year nominees David Pocock and Michael Hooper and retiring All Black stalwart Richie McCaw dominated much of the build-up to the match, but it was more a battle of the boot in the opening 39 minutes as Dan Carter kicked his side ahead.
The fly-half, winning his 113th and final cap for his country, opened the scoring inside 10 minutes, but Bernard Foley levelled things up after Ben Smith had knocked the ball on just outside his 22.
The All Blacks turned down a simple three points shortly afterwards, a gamble which did not pay off, but they did restore their lead when Carter kicked a penalty after being on the receiving end of a high tackle from Sekope Kepu, with a lenient Nigel Owens opting not to send the Australian prop to the sin-bin.
Another three points followed from the boot of Carter, himself a World Player of the Year nominee, although Australia felt that there should have been a forward pass called in the build-up.
It was not until the minutes either side of half time that New Zealand really took the game beyond Australia with a brace of tries, however.
The first arrived right on the stroke of the interval when McCaw marked his record 148th Test match by putting Nehe Milner-Skudder over in the corner, while Carter’s conversion opened up a 13-point lead at the break.
Conrad Smith’s own 95-cap career came to an end at half time, but his long-time centre partner Ma’a Nonu, also hanging up his boots at the end of the match, was not perturbed and raced through for a fine solo try just two minutes after the restart to make it 21-3.
The game, and the World Cup, suddenly seemed beyond the Wallabies, but they responded well and were handed another boost when Smith was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle.
Australia took immediate advantage of the numerical disparity when Pocock, enhancing his reputation as a contender for player of the tournament, finished off a forward drive to drag his side back into the match.
The momentum subsequently shifted heavily in Australia’s favour, and they hauled the deficit back to just four points when a kick over the top found space that Drew Mitchell exposed before offloading for Tevita Kuridrani to go over underneath the posts.
New Zealand, restored to their full complement, were able to halt the pressure and Carter gave another glimpse of his enduring class by coolly edging his side out of range again, first with a brilliant drop goal and then with a penalty from just inside the opposition half.
Australia frantically went in search of a score to give them a late glimmer of hope, but New Zealand killed their old rivals off and clinched the William Webb Ellis Trophy when Beauden Barrett touched down underneath the posts on the break after Smith had kicked it through.
Carter added the extras to cap off a man-of-the-match performance and end a glittering era in style for the All Blacks.