Well, that’s that then. Rugby World Cup 2015 is over and the first team to successfully defend the Webb Ellis Cup is being heralded as the greatest team in the history of not just rugby, but sport generally.
And the Tournament is being heralded as the biggest and best Tournament to date. Off the field, Rugby World Cup 2015 broke records left, right and centre; despite the home nation’s failing, the crowds still came and the audiences still watched.
89,267 attended Ireland versus Romania at Wembley, a sell-out stadium of 80,125 fans went to Twickenham to see New Zealand crowned champions for a third time and the Final was watched by an estimated 120 million across the globe. Total attendance clocked in at 2,477,805 across the Tournament and more than a million fans visited Official Fanzones across the six-week period.
On the field too, it was the most competitive Tournament to date with a 20 point average winning margin and the fact that Japan could beat South Africa in arguably the greatest game of rugby in living memory and that Georgia could give the All Blacks a run for their money for two thirds of a game shows that the minnows of world rugby are coming on leaps and bounds. 2,439 points were scored at an average of 51 per game, while Bryan Habana equalled Jonah Lomu’s RWC try-scoring tally of 15.
The Final was the perfect ending to the most impressive of rugby parties as the two best teams in the Tournament faced off at Twickenham and the best team in the world demonstrated exactly why they are the best team in the world.
The current All Blacks squad is arguably the most gifted group of players ever to grace a rugby field. Indeed, while supremely talented players like Beauden Barrett, Victor Vito and Sam Cane are waiting in the wings to succeed the game’s greats, the names that played in the All Black jersey for the last time are unlikely to be matched in the near future. Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith played in the centres together for an unprecedented 61st time, Richie McCaw played his 149th Test (and hinted that there could be even more to come) and Dan Carter signed off with one of the finest games of his already remarkable career.
The emotion at being able to play in a Rugby World Cup Final, after missing out on the three previous occasions, was evident on Carter’s face after the defeat of South Africa in the semi-finals and the nature of Saturday’s Final, the way in which the All Blacks swept aside their southern hemisphere rivals, was testament to Carter’s brilliance.
It was the ‘Carter Show’. An almost immaculate kicking display kept the scoreboard ticking over, he led the defensive effort with 12 tackles and his silky distribution allowed the likes of Ma’a Nonu and co to shine.
The match-defining moment was ten minutes from time. After an Australian resurgence that threatened to be the biggest comeback in a Final, the All Blacks went on the attack. Three forwards provided running lines off the base of a ruck but Aaron Smith passed behind their backs to Carter, calmly waiting on the 10m line. Faking to the right and then dropping the ball to his left boot, his yelling at the ball to will it over was unnecessary as it sailed through the posts to give the All Blacks seven points’ worth of breathing space. Minutes later, Carter’s longest penalty of the Tournament stretched this to ten.
In his final international rugby act, Carter opted to take the conversion of Beauden Barrett’s run-away try with his weaker right foot. Far from it being an act of arrogance, Carter commented after that it had ‘always been a dream’ of his. Naturally it went over, taking his match haul to 19 and his career tally to a staggering 1,598 points in 112 appearances; a record that will most likely stand the test of time.
Carter’s Man of the Match performance was the perfect icing on his illustrious career cake, with a cherry to top things off as he was presented with the World Rugby Player of the Year Award on Sunday evening. He and McCaw are now the only players to have collected the award three times.
What an amazing 48 hours. London it’s been great but time to go home. pic.twitter.com/fMQTY9z5bS
— Dan Carter (@DanCarter) November 2, 2015
So what now? Well, the above mentioned greats will travel to France to collect their various pay cheques as they play out their final seasons at the likes of Racing Metro and Toulon, while the northern hemisphere nations will go back to their drawing boards to lick their wounds and wonder how they came up so short against the southern hemisphere giants.
And we’ll start saving for Japan 2019. Anyone offering odds on Richie McCaw featuring?
Villain of the Weekend
The over zealous security guard, who, in the words of Sonny Bill Williams, ‘smoked’ a 14year old, pitch-invading kiwi fan as the All Blacks enjoyed their lap of honour.
Hero of the Weekend
Sonny Bill Williams, partly for his devastating impact off the bench to set up Ma’a Nonu’s try early in the second half, but more for coming to Charlie Lines’ aid after the above mentioned security guard flattened him into the Twickenham turf. SBW scooped him up, wrapped a muscular arm around his shoulder, escorted him back to his family and then, to the astonishment of the young fan, casually put his winners medal over his head. SBW, we salute you.
Incidentally World Rugby managed to find a ‘spare’ for SBW to take home.