The Ka Mate, better known as the haka that was seen not once but twice at the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, begins by questioning “Will I die, will I die? Or will I live, will I live?”
Perhaps ironically, such a question seemed to reverberate more with the beleaguered Wallabies, who’s chances of success looked all but extinguished when leaving the pitch after a first half where they were thoroughly dominated by the opposition.
Although Carter’s curling penalty kicked off precedings, it was soon matched by a more perfunctory effort from Foley. New Zealand were merciless in their first half attack, with the awesome trio of Aaron Smith, McCaw and Milner-Skudder coming together to produce a try, converted by Carter.
Trailing 16:3 and thoroughly pressed by the All Blacks, it was clear that the 20 minutes that followed the opening whistle of the second half would be crucial for the Australians.
A mere minute into the second half, however, the experienced Nonu took advantage of a chasm left in the Aussie defence as he weaved from the 10 yard line to score a tremendously impressive try. A fitting swan song perhaps for Nonu who joins Australian Giteau at Toulon.
Yet at least temporarily, the greatest of sporting rivalries was to be more evenly matched than initially expected. The 29% overall possession enjoyed by Australia in the first half grew by 13% in 20 minutes and ended, remarkably, at 48%. At full time, the Wallabies had committed to 111 tackles to the All Blacks 107, showing a commendable resilience especially given Australia’s poor form against their cousin’s across the Tasman Sea in the past few years.
In the 51st minute Ben Smith’s tackle flung Drew Mitchell’s legs well above the horizontal line and saw the All Blacks falter as they felt the loss of the man from Dunedin. This was a just decison by referee Nigel Owens who’s match record was mixed despite a overwhelmingly positive competiton. Australia made the most of Smith’s time in the sin bin, and for 10 minutes it looked as if the Aussies could be staging the mother, father (and indeed grandfather) of all comebacks.
Suddenly the question of “Will I die” was being emphatically answered, first by Pocock then by the Fijian beast Kuridrani, ending a somewhat lacklustre world cup with a Golden try. With 4 points separating the two teams, it was clear the Australians would not relinquish their chance of holding aloft the coveted Web Ellis trophy for a third time.
However, according to Inia Maxwell, a Māori cultural expert who has coached the New Zealand squad on the war dance for the past 16 years, the All Blacks have been doing the haka too quickly. Maybe it was their speed that prevented the haka’s original message from translating, for surely in their eyes there was no question of allowing their winning momentum, temporarily snatched from them, to die.
Carter’s instantaneous reactions saw him fluidly score a sensational drop kick, the longest of the World Cup, and all at once control was returned to the All Blacks.
It was to be man of the match Carter’s final flourish in an outstanding performance that is to be his last. Having missed the World Cup final in 2011 to injury, the reliable kicker with 112 caps to his name obviously relished his final task.
Admitting to having ”practiced a few in the backyard with the old man” Carter’s kicking was sublime. Although some have argued that New Zealand’s victory marks the end of an era for the All Blacks, the uniform strength of performance from the entire team today suggests that the team heralded as the best All Black squad of all time will adapt to the potential loss of a phalanx of seasoned veteran stars.
In the closing minutes a last ditch attempt by the Australians was met by a composed Kiwi defence and a minute before the end of the match Mitchell knocked it forward, leaving Ben Smith to capitalise on a lucky bounce. His kick, met by Barrett who, surging forwards, touched under the goalposts, sealed New Zealand’s victory and their place in history as the only team to win the treble.
Image courtesy of Stefano Delfrate