LONDON, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Man of the moment, man of the match, player of his era, Dan Carter finally got the World Cup final stage his outrageous talents demanded and, as everyone knew he would, duly delivered.
Australia had fought back to within four points in Saturday’s World Cup final and the momentum was with them. Carter, however, stopped them in their tracks with a brilliant drop goal, snapped despite seemingly having no time and space.
Moments later he stroked over a 50-metre penalty to make the game safe as Beauden Barrett’s late try completed their 34-17 victory to secure their third World Cup triumph.
It was Carter’s 112th and last test and, fittingly, he was named man of the match to complete a wonderful career.
“He is one of the great players and for him to come out and show all his skills tonight...it is pretty special,” said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.
“It’s a great way to finish. You couldn’t script it any better.”
Carter was in serene form on Saturday, busy when he needed to be and calm and controlling when the pressure grew.
When the final whistle blew, few in the game would have begrudged him his moment.
“I‘m pretty grateful to be where I am considering what happened four years ago,” he said.
“I‘m so proud of the team. To win back-to-back World Cups is a dream come true. It’s a pretty strong group of guys. We try to do things no other team has done before... it’s a special feeling to be part of such a great team.”
Carter is far and away the sport’s leading points scorer, now with 1,598. He has twice been voted world player of the year and is shortlisted again this year.
He has a remarkable 89 percent test match winning percentage and his 33-point individual haul when New Zealand destroyed the British and Irish Lions 48-18 in 2005 is ranked by many as the finest performance by a flyhalf in rugby history.
This was his fourth World Cup, alongside team mates Richie McCaw and Keven Mealamu, but while the three of them all own a winner’s medal from 2011, Carter’s previous gong is unlikely to sit alongside the 2015 version on his mantelpiece.
The flyhalf was looking in fine form in the first two group games on home soil four years ago before a groin injury ended his tournament and he watched the final from the stands.
It completed a hat-trick of World Cup miseries after he also went off injured during the 2007 quarter-final defeat by France and was an unused replacement when New Zealand lost to Australia in the 2003 semis.
Since that 2011 heartbreak Carter has suffered more injuries but has fought his way back to form and fitness and while he may lack the explosive speed of his younger self, the 33-year-old version remains the serene controller.
“Carter’s genius as a player is his completeness,” former England coach Clive Woodward wrote on Friday.
“There is no obvious weakness, nothing lacking in his skill set, no fault line to prey on and exploit. He can run, tackle, kick and pass with the best. He has time on the ball, is never rushed and does everything smoothly. He purrs along without apparent over-exertion.”
Hansen has seen close up how hard Carter has had to work and said this week that his physical setbacks had knocked him back mentally too.
”He had an horrific run of injuries over a couple of seasons that took away his confidence,“ Hansen said before Saturday’s game. ”Before that everything he touched turned to gold.
”It’s the mark of the guy how he’s come through that. A lot of people might have said ‘enough’s enough, I’ll chuck it in’ but he stuck with it and he’s got that inner confidence back.
“When you start to play well it’s like a snowball, and it gets bigger and bigger and all of a sudden it becomes an avalanche. When he’s like that, he’s a special player.” (Editing by Jon Boyle)