Rugby’s best team beat rugby’s second best team in a pulsating World Cup Final, a memorable day in the annals of Rugby Union for all the right reasons.
The 80,125 spectators at Twickenham, pretty much every man, woman, and child in New Zealand, and millions of TV viewers around the world witnessed a game of wonderful skill from both teams, of physical intensity unmatched by any other sport where players do not wear layers of protective gear, a game of meticulously planned game strategy excellently executed, and of huge courage.
It was an absorbing contest between the top rugby nations on the planet, featuring many outstanding players, including a few of the all-time great legends of the sport.
The bottom line:
* What a fitting end to the storied Test careers of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter this game was, if indeed they don’t play for the All Blacks again, tempted as they may be after their brilliant performances. McCaw was at his devastating, dominant best and Carter produced a display of consummate artistry. They were each in turn simply sublime. Both are surely headed for knighthoods after their retirements are confirmed.
* The first All Black try was the stuff of fantasy, a team effort culminating in the absolute class of Conrad Smith creating space where there was none initially, followed by perfect passes to Aaron Smith, to Richie McCaw, to Nehe Milner-Skudder. It was a stirring moment in Rugby World Cup history.
* Commendations to Steve Hansen and his coaching team for their meticulous planning, wisdom in strategy and selection, player management, and composure under pressure. So many coaches could learn from them.
* The 34-17 final score looked unlikely when Australia pulled up to 21-17 in the last quarter, but it was an accurate reflection of the game in the end, with the All Blacks dominating in the first half and the decisive last 10 minutes, and the Wallabies two tries coming when the All Blacks were down to 14 men.
* Statistics can be informative or misleading, but the telling team stats in the final were Australia’s 21% territory and 29% possession in the first half and then 65% territory and 61% possession in the second half, New Zealand beating 27 defenders and Australia only 15, the winners’ 11 offloads to the losing team’s 4 offloads, the All Blacks winning each of their scrums and lineouts, while the Wallabies won only 7/10 lineouts and 4/5 scrums, and the All Blacks completing 86% of tackles to the Wallabies 76% tackle completion.
* The eyebrow-raising inclusion of Greig Laidlaw and utterly baffling selection of Alun Wyn Jones as World Rugby Player of the Year nominees was confirmed as a palpable mockery of merit (if such confirmation were needed) by the exceptional performances, as so often before, of McCaw, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Aaron Smith, and Kieran Read, to name but a few. Indeed, besides the consistently brilliant David Pocock and Michael Hooper, all four other nominees should be All Blacks, so far ahead of the rest of the rugby world as they are.
* The bottom line on the 2015 Rugby World Cup final is that while Australia are a skilful, clever, courageous team, the All Blacks are light years ahead of the rest of the planet. They are worthy, deserving winners. Their team, and especially a few of the legends among them, will long be remembered as one of the most effective, efficient, professional teams ever to play any sport – and for adding flair and creativity and adventure and excitement to that celebrated efficacy.