Dan Carter guides All Blacks to glory, are they the best ever?
New Zealand make history as they retain the Rugby World Cup, and the rest of the world looks to catch up by 2019
So New Zealand have done it. The first nation to win back-to-back World Cups and also the first to win rugby's showpiece tournament three times. And, boy, did the All Blacks do it in style.
Saturday's final was a fitting climax to a fantastic tournament, by universal agreement the most spectacular World Cup yet, with New Zealand beating Australia 34-17 in a thrilling contest.
Don't be fooled by the scoreline. Up until the last ten minutes the Webb Ellis Cup was still up for grabs as the Wallabies, trailing 21-3 early in the second half, dragged themselves back into contention with two converted tries in ten minutes.
In truth, however, it would have been a travesty if New Zealand had lost so dominant were they for most of the match. Make that the tournament, in fact make it the last four years. To suffer just three defeats in that time (a total of 54 matches) is truly an astonishing feat, prompting Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times to wonder if New Zealand are "the greatest sporting team in the world".
Right now, they undoubtedly are, and when it comes to cold, hard stats they are superior to other magnificent teams down the years, be they the Brazilian football team of the early 1970s or the Australian side that dominated cricket in the late 1990s.
Jones singles out All Black Dan Carter for praise, rightly calling the fly-half's sumptuous performance "sublime". In his last Test for New Zealand Carter kicked 19 points, including one towering drop goal from 45 metres. "I practised a few drop goals in the back yard with the old man and I was pretty pleased that it went over," said Carter of his colossal kick. "It just gave us a bit of breathing space...we have worked so hard to be here today. I am so proud of the guys."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Paul Hayward describes Carter as "probably the finest player to have played this sometimes perplexing, often glorious game", and says his brilliant performance at Twickenham was just reward for four years ago when injury kept him out of the 2011 final.
The 33-year-old, victorious in 99 of his 112 Test matches, also receives lavish praise from the Mail on Sunday with Oliver Holt writing of Carter: "He has decorated the game with particular elegance and dedication...maybe that is why Prince Harry wrapped him in a hug on the dais before the trophy presentation."
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who received the World Cup from Prince Harry, is another All Black bowing out on a high, unless he shocks everyone by electing to carry on.
"It is a hugely proud moment,” he said after the match on Satuday. "We did not want to peter out and live off the glory of 2011. We gave ourselves the opportunity today and didn"t want to let it slip... our performance was outstanding."
But the All Blacks are nothing if not a collective unit, and Oliver Holt of the Mail didn't forget Carter and McCaw's teammates, all of whom played with an enterprise rarely seen in previous low-scoring World Cup finals. "They symbolise the joy and the spirit of rugby and now, at last, they can say their success matches the enchantment they spread," writes Holt.
Ominously for the rest of the rugby world, Dean Ryan explains in The Guardian that he believes New Zealand will take some catching in the next four years. "The All Blacks didn't just win their third World Cup on Saturday, they set the bar for 2019," writes the former England number eight and current coach of Worcester Warriors. "That's at least the level of rugby, commitment and experience that will be needed if England, or anyone else for that matter, are going to replace New Zealand as top dogs in Japan."
On the question of whether this All Black side is the best the sport has ever seen - as stated last month by South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer - Ryan says: "I'm not old enough to agree or disagree with Heyneke... but you know that it's in the nature of the beast that by the time we're in Tokyo, they'll be even better than the 2015 model. And from one to 15 on Saturday, they were pretty close to complete."