LONDON (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.
A 50 metre penalty moments late effectively sealed the deal.
“They pulled themselves back into the game, scored a couple of tries and put a bit of pressure on us,” Carter said.
“So it was nice to be able to get a drop goal that gave us a little bit of breathing space at a crucial time in the game.”
Beauden Barrett’s late try completed the 34-17 victory to secure New Zealand’s 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.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know we’ve done that and I can now move on and retire from international rugby,” he said on the victory in the sport’s ultimate test.
”I’ll take a break and obviously enjoy this. I‘m looking forward to celebrating with the team tonight, then catch up with family and take a couple of weeks off before moving to France to start a new chapter in my life.
Having won titles with Crusaders and his country during a glittering if sometimes injury plagued career, carter in now going to play with leading French club Racing Metro.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen put carter up among rugby’s all time greats, just a notch below team captain Richie McCaw, the only man to lift the Webb Ellis Cup twice.
“He is one of the great players and for him to come out and show all his skills tonight...it is pretty special,” Hansen said.
“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 at the end of his fourth World Cup having been injured early in the 2011 tournament hosted and won by New Zealand but with Carter watching from the sidelines.
“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.
Since the 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.
Assistant coach Ian Foster gave an appreciation of what it has meant to the All Blacks to have Carter fit and at his best.
“He has been in the groove through most of this tournament, you can just see him building and building,” he said.
”He did it tonight. When we needed him to step up and make some decisions and go out on a bit of a limb and have a crack at a drop goal, he did it again.
”He followed that on with that long penalty kick which was at a pretty important stage as well.
“He has left this team in a really good space, he has guided it well and done himself proud.”
Additional reporting by John Geddie, Rex Gowar; Editing by Jon Boyle/Mitch Phillips