A game of rugby union was played in London today, during which the greatest first five eighth in the history of the game finally got his World Cup moment. Dan Carter, a man who cried in the stands at Millennium Stadium in 2007, and who watched Stephen Donald win a World Cup in 2011, lined up a 70th minute dropped goal which sailed through the Twickenham sticks, commanded by his voice and by the sheer force of his will. Then he kicked a 49-metre penalty to put the game beyond doubt.
The story of the game went like this: Wallabies fullback Israel Folau was smashed by Jerome Kaino 20 seconds into proceedings. Captain Stephen Moore’s nose started bleeding in sympathy. And, for the next 79 minutes and 40 seconds, spectators were treated to that rarest of World Cup happenings: a final that matched the hype.
The All Blacks pitched their circus marquee inside the Australian 22 and performed tricks of varying degrees of difficulty for the opening 10 minutes of the match, building pressure through scrummage and line out and scoring the first points of the game through a Dan Carter kick. Australia were turned over four times in the early exchanges, which would have been the death of a lesser side.
Not the Wallabies. The All Blacks had their chances to score early but Australia held them out. There were line out drives, and quick taps and half breaks but the goal line remained uncrossed. In fact, the Wallabies instead found a way into the match and levelled the scores when Bernard Foley kicked his first penalty of the afternoon.
There were casualties early: Kieran Read required strapping on an ankle, Kane Douglas left the field after 15 minutes, clutching a knee. Dan Carter was hammered in a Sekope Kepu tackle and stayed down just long enough to send a nation into a collective panic attack. Matt Giteau was knocked into next week by Brodie Rettalick and forgot what side he was playing for.
New Zealand kept coming, Australia kept stopping them. It was a no-contest in terms of possession and territory but those top line numbers don’t take into account the desperation of the green and gold defence. New Zealand were only able to add to their score when Carter converted a second penalty after 26 minutes of craziness.
He added another at minute 35, on the back of a pass that may as well have been thrown by Tom Brady. Not that anyone in New Zealand was complaining about the non-call from Assistant Referee Wayne Barnes.
It was 9-3 with 2 minutes remaining in the half. It was 16-3 at halftime.
The All Blacks finally found a way over the line with less than two minutes to go before the break. Nehe Milner-Skudder scored the only try of the half after the Australian defence finally gave way to the All Blacks endless assault. Australia had missed 16 tackles already. That seventeenth miss cost them five points.
Two minutes into the second half the All Blacks went in again. Sonny Bill Williams, into the game in place of Conrad Smith produced two offloads in succession and, from the second, Ma’a Nonu scampered 45 metres to score. It was Ma’a Nonu’s 41st test try. It is safe to say it was probably the prettiest try he has ever scored.
At 21-3 the Australians suddenly required the greatest comeback in World Cup history to win the William Webb Ellis Cup. They weren’t going to go away. Unlike All Blacks fullback Ben Smith who was forced to go away – sent to the sin bin for a lifting tackle on Drew Mitchell. The Wallabies capitalised immediately, and David Pocock scored.
Moments. The Ben Smith tackle. A high shot from Kaino that went unseen. A penalty against Adam Ashley-Cooper. The All Blacks line out drive held up and stopped dead. The All Blacks turned over on the Australian goal line. These are the subtle shifts in big matches that become turning points in the wash up. For the third quarter at least, the World Cup final suddenly resembled a test match again.
Tevita Kuridrani scored for Australia and it was perfectly set up; the Wallabies taking advantage of the the fact the All Blacks were still without their fullback. Bernard Foley converted the try. The All Blacks’ 18-point lead was now reduced to four.
Then Dan Carter took over. The dropped goal. The penalty. The defensive pressure. Carter was Man of the Match in a game that was closed out by Beauden Barrett, who latched onto a Ben Smith kick, toed the ball ahead, and scored under the sticks. As Carter’s career came to an end, Barrett announced to the world that he was entering his prime.
Five incredible All Blacks won their final game of test match rugby at Twickenham today. Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and the captain, Richie McCaw, all finished their careers as double world champions.
But the day belonged to the greatest first five eighth of all time. Dan Carter finally got his World Cup moment.
There were no tears today.