Beaten Wallabies can walk away with heads held high
THE ghosts of losses past have been buried and this All Blacks team hailed as the best to have played the game after overcoming a gallant Australia 34-17 in the World Cup final at Twickenham.
Some overly-patriotic Australian commentators may have tried to suggest the Wallabies were robbed by a couple of non-calls, and incorrect calls by referee Nigel Owens, but the overwhelming consensus was that the best team, not only on the day, but throughout the tournament, prevailed.
Coach Michael Cheika, who took charge less than 12 months ago, said with a bit more luck Australia could have taken the game to the wire, but added he was extremely proud of the efforts of all of his players.
"I've been very, very proud of the team. I really have," he said. "There's not much more I could have asked them to do. We came pretty close - the bounce of the ball here or there, and a call here or there and we could have gone closer."
The calls Cheika was probably referring to was a blatant forward pass by All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder just before half-time that neither Owens or assistant referee Wayne Barnes picked up. The missed infringement led to Dan
Carter's third penalty goal, which stretched the lead to 9-3, and was followed by a try on the stroke of half-time to Milner-Skudder which sent the Wallabies to the break in trouble at 16-3 down.
The task became even greater when Ma'a Nonu crossed just after half-time to make it 21-3, but Cheika said even at that point he was confident the Wallabies could make a game of it.
That proved to be the case when David Pocock and Tevita Kuridrani both scored tries while All Blacks fullback Ben Smith was in the sin-bin for a lifting tackle, reducing the margin to four points.
"At 21-17 ... even when it got seven points behind ... you get a try there and you can take the game to extra-time," Cheika said. "So we were right there back in the hunt in the second half.
"We could have gone home then and everybody would have been happy and said we had a good campaign.
"But the heart and the courage in the team, I believe, that's been built in the team and will last us going forward, was such that they didn't want to do that and they wanted to stay in the contest."
Unfortunately for Australia it was Carter, the champion flyhalf who missed New Zealand's win four years ago with injury, who stepped up to stamp his class on the game.
In what was most likely his last 10 minutes in an All Blacks jersey, the French rugby-bound Carter dropped a goal to push the score to 24-17, and then kicked a penalty from halfway to give his side some breathing space.
A late try to Beauden Barrett sealed the match once and for and all, Wallabies captain Stephen Moore in no doubt the best team won.
"It's all about New Zealand - they thoroughly deserved to win," Moore said.
"They have been the best team in the tournament. There are no excuses from us. I'm proud of the effort we put in and the way we fought our way back into the match. Sometimes you just come up against a better team."