Richie McCaw holds aloft the Rugby World Cup trophy after New Zealand became the first team to win the tournament twice in a row

New Zealand are world champions for the third time, becoming the first side to retain the trophy.

It was the result most would have predicted before the tournament, but it is never that simple, and so it proved in this pulsating final, probably the best of all the eight finals so far, as a wonderfully brave Australia somehow crawled back into the game having been 21-3 down early in the second half.

The reason New Zealand prevailed? Because at fly-half they had a chap called Dan Carter, who reserved one of his finest performances for his first final and his last Test.

He was simply magnificent. When all around him were wobbling after Australia had scored two tries while Ben Smith was in the sin bin, and the score was 21-17, Carter dropped a ridiculously difficult goal to ease the nerves. He then kicked a penalty from halfway to put New Zealand out of sight. He kicked 19 points, but also made 12 tackles, more than any other New Zealander.

But there were sprinklings of gold all across the field after an edgy first half an hour when both sides had been so competitive at the breakdown that the game could not flow.

Ma’a Nonu was superb, as was his partner Conrad Smith for a half. Nehe Milner Skudder was so sharp and the truly great Richie McCaw did not disappoint in his final performance either.

For Australia replacement Kurtley Beale had a quite astounding match when he arrived and all their back line were lively and sharp at times, especially in the second half. David Pocock and Michael Hooper were again influential, but in that calamitous first half for them, Australia’s lineout was poor and they were just not able to find enough good position from which to work

They had gone down 6-3 to two Carter penalties and were grateful then when Ben Smith knocked on under no pressure. From the resultant scrummage Owen Franks was pinged, and Bernard Foley kicked the penalty.

It was still all New Zealand at this stage, though, and when Sekope Kepu was adjudged to have tackled Carter late, you sensed the All Blacks would make something of the position. But yet again Australia were very good at the breakdown, turning the ball over twice moments apart from each other, with Scott Fardy most obviously making the second of those turnovers.

Carter was again the victim of a dangerous tackle from Kepu, this time the Australian prop going high. Carter kicked for goal, his successful attempt making it 6-3 after 26 minutes.

Australia lost another player as Matt Giteau departed for a Head Injury Assessment after a tackle from Kieran Read. Giteau did not return, and rightly so. He looked in a bad way.

Things began to open up a little as Beale so very nearly escaped but for an excellent tackle by Nonu. And then Nehe Milner-Skudder put Jerome Kaino away on the right- even though the pass looked well forward- before Will Genia was penalised for an offside tackle on Aaron Smith. Carter kicked the penalty from the fiendishly difficult angle. It was 9-3.

Then just before the break came the first try. It was wonderfully worked by the All Blacks, who were patient and precise in their work as they relentlessly attacked Australia’s left flank, even if there may have been an accidental offside in its build up that referee Nigel Owens decided not to give.

First of all hooker Dane Coles, who is seriously quick, was set free, and then a couple of phases later Conrad Smith found himself in space. He turned inside and Aaron Smith looped around him to feed McCaw, who put Milner-Skudder in at the corner. It was a clinical score created by some stunning handling.

Carter converted magnificently from the touchline, and it was 16-3 at half time.

Just as they had done last weekend New Zealand emerged from the changing rooms early to run through some drills. But last weekend they had been in some bother against South Africa. This time there was no such problem.

Conrad Smith was replaced during the break by Sonny Bill Williams, and Williams made an immediate impact with two lovely off-loads in the tackle, the second of which put Nonu in some space around Australia’s 10m line.

He stepped Beale as he ran across field and then held off Drew Mitchell’s tackle to score a stupendous try. Carter missed the conversion, but the game appeared to be already over at 21-3, with only four minutes having elapsed in the second half.

It was certainly the cue for some pulsating action. New Zealand destroyed Australia at a scrummage and it appeared that Milner-Skudder was away. But then Beale intercepted, and it appeared that he was away.

He was not, but Australia suddenly showed their best attacking stuff of the match. Foley and Adam Ashley Cooper went close before Ben Smith tip-tackled Mitchell and was given a yellow card.

Australia kicked to the corner and drove hard at the lineout. There was no stopping them, and Pocock was the beneficiary. Foley kicked the conversion. It was 21-10.

Australia sensed their opportunity, going through nine phases but New Zealand’s defence was sufficiently organised that they were awarded a penalty as the Australians held on, although Owens could easily have gone back for a high tackle by Kaino.

But Australia would not cave in with Smith still in the bin. Milner-Skudder did not clear his lines well enough and when Beale ran back, Genia spotted the empty acres from the ruck and kicked into them for Foley to chase and collect. The fly half passed inside to Tevita Kuridrani, who ran across towards the posts for a breath-taking score. Foley converted. It was 21-17, with 15 minutes remaining.

We had a game on our hands. But guess what happened? From nowhere on the Australian 10m line Carter, with no time and no space, stepped onto his left foot and dropped the most insouciant of drop goals. At this moment, under this pressure. It was quite remarkable, and it was 24-17.

Australia were then penalised at the scrummage near halfway. The result? Carter was never missing, even though it appeared out of his usual range. It was just meant to be.

The gloss was added by a brilliant try from replacement Beauden Barrett, after Mitchell had knocked on in New Zealand’s 22 and Ben Smith had collected and kicked ahead. Barrett got there first and hacked on before the ball bounced up kindly. Carter- who else?- converted.

It was fitting that a true great ended a great ending to a great tournament. And all those adjectives are truly deserved.

Dan Carter's game winning drop goal
Dan Carter’s game winning drop goal
New Zealand's centre Ma'a Nonu (L) scores his team's second try
New Zealand’s centre Ma’a Nonu (L) scores his team’s second try
New Zealand celebrate their historic win
New Zealand celebrate their historic win
Australian captain Steven Moore walks past the Webb Ellis trophy which eluded his grasp
Australian captain Steven Moore walks past the Webb Ellis trophy which eluded his grasp