LONDON — New Zealand became the first team to retain the Rugby World Cup after holding off a second-half comeback by Australia to win 34-17 in an absorbing final, capping one of the most dominant eras in the sport's history on Saturday.
In probably the last test of his record-breaking career, flyhalf Dan Carter steered the All Blacks to a record third global title — and first outside New Zealand — with a dropped goal, a penalty, and a conversion from Beauden Barrett's breakaway try in the final 10 minutes at Twickenham.
Carter finished with 19 points, and finally played a full part in an All Blacks' World Cup win after getting injured during the team's 2011 title campaign.
Ma'a Nonu's solo try from 40 meters put the All Blacks 21-3 ahead by the 42nd minute, and a grueling World Cup campaign looked to have taken its toll on the Wallabies.
Yet, Australia took advantage of a sin-binning for New Zealand fullback Ben Smith to score tries through David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani in a 10-minute spell and move within four points of their neighbors. They were threatening to pull off the greatest World Cup comeback.
Carter saw New Zealand home, though, to likely end his test career with 1,598 points. Since the 2011 final, New Zealand has lost only three of 54 games.
It was a fitting farewell — if confirmed — to international rugby for All Blacks greats Carter, captain Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith, Nonu and replacement Keven Mealamu.
McCaw, playing his 148th test, set up winger Nehe Milner-Skudder for New Zealand's first try, Carter was unflappable throughout, and then there was Nonu with his electric, 40-meter break that brought the majority of the 80,125-strong full house to its feet.
Wearing a brace on his right knee, Carter kept his composure despite being targeted by the Australians, with prop Sekope Kepu downing the All Blacks great twice in the first half with a late hit and a high tackle. Kepu avoided the sin-bin but Carter had the last laugh.
The Wallabies had a tough path to the final — they've virtually been playing knockout rugby since midway through the pool stage — and the final was a game too far. They defended stoutly and won plenty of turnover ball as ever, but barely got out of their own half in the first half, when they were hit by game-ending injuries to inside center Matt Giteau and lock Kane Douglas.
Milner-Skudder's try just before halftime was crucial, opening up a 16-3 lead at halftime for an All Blacks machine that was constantly getting over the gainline. Nonu did just that two minutes after the break with one of the great tries in a final, collecting Sonny Bill Williams' offload, bursting through two defenders and sidestepping another before holding off Drew Mitchell in a stretch for the line.
Australia took its first step in its comeback when Pocock grounded at the back of an eight-man rolling maul, after a lineout earned when Smith was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Mitchell.
Smith returned to action just after Foley kicked a second conversion, after he had chased a chip ahead and offloaded to Kuridrani to run to the line from 20 meters.
Another World Cup final was going to the wire but New Zealand had Carter, who kicked a drop from 42 meters, sent over a penalty from halfway, and then converted Barrett's last-minute try.