In sending legendary duo Dan Carter and Richie McCaw out as back-to-back champions and withstanding an almighty Wallabies comeback, New Zealand has confirmed their place as the greatest team of all time.
Victory in the titanic final ensured they became the first nation to defend the title and the first to lift the Webb Ellis Cup three times, running out 34-17 winners at Twickenham on Saturday.
Having already been anointed the best of all-time by Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer in the lead-up to their semi-final, the All Blacks removed all doubt with a superb first half and clinical finish.
It will never be the same again for a team which will say goodbye to arguably the two greatest All Blacks, McCaw and Carter, as well as outstanding trio Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Keven Mealamu.
McCaw, who also captained the All Blacks’ drought-breaking win in 2011, said it was the proudest moment of his career.
“We said four years ago after the last one that we’ll get on the road again and with this being the end goal, playing at Twickenham in a World Cup final to try and do something no one else has done,” he said.
“I’m so proud of the way the guys have done that today. We played some damn good rugby there.
“We lost a bit of momentum in the second half but we kept that composure and came home strong, which has been a hallmark of this team for the past four years.”
The All Blacks’ victory completed four years of utter dominance in which they lost just three of 54 Tests since their drought-breaking World Cup win on home soil in 2011.
But they were forced to repel a Kurtley Beale-inspired fightback as Michael Cheika’s men again showed their incredible resilience to pull within four points through tries to David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani after trailing 21-3 shortly after halftime.
Wallabies captain Stephen Moore said the result properly reflected New Zealand’s standing as unquestionably the world’s best.
“No excuses from us tonight,” he said.
“Sometimes you come up against the better team and that was us tonight.
“(The All Blacks) thoroughly deserve everything they get.
“They thoroughly deserved to win – the best team all tournament.”
The 16-3 scoreline was the biggest halftime lead in a World Cup final and no team had overturned a halftime deficit to win in seven previous finals.
But it accurately reflected New Zealand’s incredible first-half dominance, in which they had 71 per cent of possession and 79 per cent of territory.
Ultimately, this was one mountain the Wallabies couldn’t climb – and the result appeared to be assured two minutes after the break when Nonu scored a magnificent try, beating four defenders in a 45-metre run after latching onto a Sonny Bill Williams offload.
Australia’s comeback, built on tries to David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani while All Blacks fullback Ben Smith was in the sin-bin, was snuffed out by man-of-the-match Carter, who slotted a drop goal 10 minutes from time that extended the All Blacks’ lead to seven, while a further penalty five minutes later sealed the result.
“We’ve done it a lot of times over the years but to do it when it really counts in a World Cup final, it just shows the calibre of the men we’ve got,” McCaw said.
Replacement five-eighth Beauden Barrett put the icing on the cake with a 79th-minute runaway try.
Carter finished with 19 points from two conversions, four penalties and a drop goal.