LONDON — New Zealand has won a record third Rugby World Cup, and become the first team to successfully defend the title after beating Australia 34-17 in a breathless final at Twickenham.
New Zealand led 21-3 soon after halftime, then Australia attempted to pull off the biggest comeback in tournament history. The Wallabies scored two converted tries to cut the gap to four, but the All Blacks pulled further ahead with a Dan Carter dropped goal and penalty for breathing room at 27-17 with five minutes to go.
Australia stayed on attack, and in the last minute a fumbled pass was scooped up by New Zealand fullback Ben Smith, who chipped ahead for replacement back Beauden Barrett to score and finish a thrilling match.
After getting injured during New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup-winning campaign four years ago, Dan Carter was relieved to finally be on the field in the final this time. And it was Carter’s kicking that secured the Webb Ellis Cup for a record third time for the All Blacks.
No kick was perhaps more important than Carter’s audacious dropped goal after Australia narrowed the score to 21-17.
“I was just yelling at the ball, ‘Go! Go!'” man-of-the-match Carter said amid the celebrations on Twickenham. “I wasn’t sure I had enough. I was just relived to see it go over.”
As Carter prepared to collect the trophy, the flyhalf said: “I’m pretty grateful to be where I am after what happened four years ago … it’s a pretty strong group of guys. We try to do things that no other team has done before.”
It was likely to be the 33-year-old Carter’s last match for New Zealand as he is going to play club rugby in France.
“He is one of the great players isn’t he?” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. “To be able to come out and show all of his skills tonight is pretty special.”
New Zealand had a commanding 21-3 lead early in the second half but a couple of Australian tries made it seem the final would be more anxious for the defending champions.
Carter ensured it wouldn’t be, as he extended his world-record test points tally to 1,598.
“I knew the momentum was against us,” New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said. “It was a matter of not panicking and doing the simple things to get the ball back and get the control back … it shows the caliber of the men we’ve got.”