For the duration of the six-week Rugby World Cup, and perhaps the four years that preceded it, the rest of the world tried to convince itself that the New Zealand All Blacks could be beaten. On Saturday afternoon, New Zealand proved the rest of the rugby world wrong. The All Blacks dismantled their neighbor Australia, 34-17, at Twickenham Stadium in London to win a third Rugby World Cup and their second in a row. No other nation had retained the trophy before. As the dominant team of its generation, the All Blacks lost just three matches between the time captain Richie McCaw lifted the Webb Ellis Cup on home soil in 2011 and here on Saturday afternoon. “We set out four years ago to try and do something special,” New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen said. “We had to put a full stop very quickly on what happened in 2011 to get started in 2012.” While evening settled over 80,125 fans here, it became clear that Australia wouldn’t be the side to stop the Kiwi steamroller, despite a brief second-half rally. The All Blacks, representing a country of 4.5 million where rugby is religion, took over the match with their trademark brand of powerful, running rugby. And the team sealed it with the left boot of Dan Carter, the leading points scorer in international rugby history.
After the final whistle, the All Blacks’ traveling party of around 50 poured onto the field, accounting for approximately 0.001% of the country’s population. The rest, some 8,000 miles away, celebrated over Sunday breakfast back home. “Twelve months ago, the focus really came onto what we wanted to do here in the last six weeks.” McCaw said. And that was to “add to the legacy of the All Blacks.” Carter, like McCaw, will now withdraw from the international scene, after 112 appearances in the All Black jersey. McCaw, meanwhile, bows out as the most capped player in rugby history, with 148 Test matches to his name, a remarkable feat for a flanker, one of the more physically demanding positions in the sport. “We knew that we had to send the skipper out a winner,” New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams said. By a quirk of rugby World Cups, these two sides had never met in a final since the quadrennial tournament began in 1987. And yet one or the other had appeared in six of the previous seven finals.
Most of the scoreboard damage was inflicted by Carter in his last ever match for the All Blacks. As a fly-half responsible for kicking penalties in the game’s most high-powered offense, it’s no surprise that he stretches the international record with nearly every swing of his left leg. But of his 1598 career points, few will be more memorable than the 19 he racked up on Sunday. His three penalties and a tricky conversion from near the touchline helped the All Blacks to a 16-3 halftime lead. The other score was a slick passing try, carried over the line by Nehe Milner-Skudder just before the break.
“A player who has played 100 test matches like Dan doesn’t have his career defined by one game,” Hansen said before the game. “That’s already been defined in the history books. Dan has enhanced the jersey. When you start out as an All Black, that’s one of the greatest things you can do.” The All Blacks added another try in the 42nd minute with a brilliant run by the veteran Ma’a Nonu. Though Carter missed the conversion, New Zealand’s lead was 18 points. It was then, after the All Blacks were temporarily reduced to 14 men by a yellow card, that Australia rumbled to life. David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani each broke through the All Blacks’ defense for tries, which were both converted by Bernard Foley. The Wallabies, despite their No. 2 world ranking before the tournament, had already defied expectations by reaching the final. Just over a year ago, the whole program was listing after three straight defeats to Southern hemisphere powers and the sudden exit of their coach. So they brought in Michael Cheika to turn things around. For most of the tournament, his work paid off. There were impressive victories for Australia over England and Wales. The Wallabies survived Scotland in the quarterfinals—courtesy of a late refereeing error that awarded them a penalty kick—and they outmuscled Argentina in the semis.
The Wallabies’ efforts in the second half made this the first Rugby World Cup final to see both teams score at least two tries. But trivia aside, they also forced the All Blacks to find an extra gear in the closing 15 minutes. So Carter, who missed the final in 2011, took it upon himself to relieve the pressure. In the 70th minute, he kicked a superb drop goal, just as he did in the semifinal against South Africa, to stretch the lead to seven points. Five minutes later, he sealed the match with his longest kick of the night: a penalty from 50 meters. The 79th-minute try by Beauden Barrett was the icing on New Zealand’s cake for an unprecedented third World Cup triumph. “We try and do things that no other team has done before,” Carter said.