All Black everything
New Zealand entered the history books courtesy of their stunning 34-17 victory over Australia in the World Cup final, becoming the first nation to win the tournament three times and the first to successfully defend their crown. The All Blacks overcame the pressure of favouritism and the expectations of a rugby-mad country to produce arguably the finest team performance ever witnessed in a decider.
The match itself was a cracker, even if it did not deliver the cliff-hanger finish the 2015 RWC richly deserved. A record five tries were scored, starting with a vital 39th-minute five-pointer to wing sensation Nehe Milner-Skudder that gave the All Blacks a 16-3 halftime lead. Ma’a Nonu landed a devastating blow via a sensational 40-metre solo try less than two minutes after the break, but the Wallabies fought back gamely with tries to David Pocock (53rd minute) and Tevita Kuridrani (64th) following the controversial sin-binning of New Zealand fullback Ben Smith.
The reigning champs closed out the match brilliantly thanks to Dan Carter’s magical boot and a spectacular late try to Beauden Barrett, which an atoning Smith set up in the dying minutes. This All Blacks side, a mixture of experienced legends and emerging superstars, deserves to be entrenched in any conversation about the greatest line-ups of all time.
Wallabies invigorate union’s flagging fortunes
Australia came up short in the final, perhaps leg-weary from an arduous campaign – but they proved worthy challengers nonetheless, sparking hopes of a miraculous comeback during the second stanza when they trimmed an 18-point deficit to just four.
More importantly, however, was the Wallabies’ efforts in restoring credibility to a code which has been ebbing low in Australia for the best part of a decade. The halcyon days of the 1990s and early-2000s had become a distant memory, but the current Wallabies crop showed more than enough to suggest another green-and-golden era could be just around the corner.
Michael Cheika, deservedly named the IRB Coach of the Year, has brought back the confidence, exuberance and toughness to the national side that was severely lacking during Robbie Deans’ sombre reign and Ewen McKenzie’s incident-packed stint in charge.
While the All Blacks farewelled a core group of stars after their triumph and face a rebuilding period from 2016, the Wallabies can expect to call upon the services of the vast majority of their World Cup heroes next season and beyond.
Given that only a handful of players were regarded as certainties in the Wallabies line-up just a few short months ago, this squad’s achievements have been remarkable – and they may only just be getting started.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) November 1, 2015
DC shines amongst retiring legend brigade
Has there even been a more shimmering international exit from one of the game’s greats than Dan Carter’s sublime performance in the final? After missing the 2011 triumph through injury, the France-bound 33-year-old’s place in the All Blacks line-up was on shaky ground after a subpar Super XV campaign, but Carter solidified his standing as arguably the greatest No.10 ever with a stellar World Cup and a match-winning display in the decider.
Steering the ship superbly throughout, Carter snatched the game away from the resurgent Wallabies with a brilliant 70th-minute drop goal and a 48-metre penalty goal soon afterwards. The all-time Test pointscoring record-holder, whose return to form began with a stellar display against Australia at Eden Park, was named the IRB Player of the Year at the conclusion of the World Cup.
Carter and fellow All Blacks legends Richie McCaw (probably), Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and the injured Tony Woodcock – with a combined 589 Test appearances between them – have donned the famous jumper for the last time, as have a few fine servants such as Ben Franks and Colin Slade.
Next year represents a big challenge for the world champs, with half of the spots in the squad likely to be up for grabs as Olympic Sevens commitments – which will rule the likes of Sonny Bill Williams out of Test contention – compound the veteran exodus.
Yellow card shocker
Australia’s comeback was aided by the ludicrous yellow-carding of New Zealand fullback Ben Smith for a lifting tackle on Drew Mitchell early in the second half. It was a penalty-worthy offence, but nothing more as Michael Hooper’s support of the tackled player contributed to the position Mitchell ended up in.
Absurd calls by commentator and former Wallaby Rod Kafer, and The Daily Telegraph, that Smith should have been red-carded showed a pathetic disregard for rugby, physics and fairness. Fortunately, Smith’s spell did not alter the result, with the brilliant Highlanders No.15 setting up the clincher for Beauden Barrett in the latter stages.
— EatSleepRugby (@eatsleeprugby) October 31, 2015
SBW caps off feelgood Cup
From the Romanian marriage proposal, to tears of joy amid Japan’s euphoric upset of South Africa, and guard of honour after guard of honour, it has been a World Cup dripping in heart-warming spirit. Sonny Bill Williams added another feelgood chapter by assisting a youngster who had been tackled by a security guard after running onto Twickenham post-match. Williams then walked him back to his parents and gave the disbelieving All Blacks fan his winner’s medal (which World Cup organisers later replaced).
Some people can’t help but find a negative in a story like this one – particularly if it involves Sonny Bill – but footage of another selfless act following New Zealand’s pool match against Tonga showed SBW’s kindness following the final was no publicity stunt.
Williams will always have his critics, but the two-time World Cup winner has proven himself as one of the great multi-code success stories after playing a vital role as an impact player in the All Blacks’ triumph. He made an immediate impression after replacing Conrad Smith at halftime of the final, producing a trademark offload in the lead-up to Ma’a Nonu’s crucial try.
But Williams’ 2015 RWC exploits are destined to be remembered for the way he has carried himself after the fulltime whistle sounded as much as his dynamic displays off the bench.
Good to see the young fulla today, ur part of the team now bro pic.twitter.com/51nj8ggIq6
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) November 2, 2015
RUGBY WORLD CUP FINAL
New Zealand 34 d. Australia 17