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All Blacks success puts seal on superb Rugby World Cup

Australia filed off the Twickenham pitch casting wistful glances at New Zealand toasting their place in World Cup history, but it was fitting that the most thrilling instalment of the competition was won by the game's greatest team.

The rugby world turned its gaze to south-west London to see the All Blacks run out 34-17 victors in a pulsating final, becoming the competition's most successful nation and the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Cup.

A celebratory haka was performed facing the touchline as the smoke from a lengthy firework display lifted from the ground and it will surely be the last time captain Richie McCaw completes the ritual as retirement looms.

There was to be no upset, drama or controversy as New Zealand cantered to a third world title, bringing down the curtain on a superb tournament full of twists, shocks, thrills and hope for the future.

It is testament to the excellence of England 2015 that interest was sustained until the end despite the disastrous performance of the host nation and the northern hemisphere, who failed to supply a semi-finalist for the first time.

England were dire, losing to Wales and Australia on successive weekends as their interest was confined to 16 days of bewildering underachievement that reached its nadir with a record defeat to the Wallabies.

Warren Gatland's Wales performed heroics in absorbing an injury crisis of epic proportions to reach the last eight, where they succumbed to South Africa, but expectations that Ireland would emerge as the Six Nations' standard-bearer were brutally exposed by Argentina.

Hopefully referee Craig Joubert will be forgiven in Scotland at some point in the future after his late intervention handed Australia victory in one of the World Cup's great games.

Europe's failings aside, England 2015 was a remarkable event that unfolded in sold-out arenas full of noise and colour. Twickenham has never looked so good nor sounded so alive as London's assortment of international communities roared on their heroes.

Notice that a memorable event had arrived was served on the opening weekend when Japan produced the greatest upset in rugby history by toppling two-time world champions South Africa in Brighton.

It was not a victory founded merely on thunderous commitment and courage - although there was plenty of that - as the quality of the Brave Blossoms' performance sent shockwaves through the game.

The mantle was taken up by other 'minnows' with Georgia, Romania and Namibia drawing strength from Japan's example as they stood toe to toe with tier one nations before succumbing.

Argentina began feasting at the top table long ago, but their swashbuckling passage into the semi-final drew admiring glances as they added flair and attacking ambition to their traditional strengths in the forwards.

Cheered on by Diego Maradona and their noisy fans, their fingers hovered over the self-destruct button as they fell to Australia at Twickenham before falling to South Africa in the bronze final.

England 2015 was blessed with glorious conditions that enabled teams to move away from the established World Cup-winning template of defence and goalkicking in favour of a renewed appetite for attack.

Blood-and-thunder clashes remained - New Zealand and South Africa slugged it out in the semi-finals and the Springboks were involved in another bruising showdown when they edged Wales one stage earlier - but elsewhere there were tries in abundance.

The All Blacks thrashed France, Ireland were stunned by Argentina's transformation into a team with multiple dimensions and anyone present for the last-eight appointment between Australia and Scotland witnessed a classic.

The Scots were left nursing a strong sense of grievance, however, after Joubert erroneously awarded Australia a last-gasp penalty that Bernard Foley kicked to snatch a dramatic victory.

Scotland clearly benefited from the guidance of head coach Vern Cotter, one of many New Zealanders in charge of national sides. Their influence was stamped all over the tournament with Milton Haig and John McKee adding new layers of complexity to Georgia and Fiji respectively.

And Australian duo Michael Cheika and Eddie Jones added their names to a new category of tracksuit sage dubbed 'super-coaches', joining Steve Hansen, Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt among the exalted few.

The tournament was not without blemish as the disciplinary system was erratic and appeared to favour the tier one nations, while the social media voting system for the man of the match threw up some odd winners.

And still more needs to be done for the smaller teams, who suffer from short turnarounds far more than the heavyweights.

But these complaints are minor interruptions to the chorus of approval that has greeted the eighth edition of the global showpiece. England may have flopped on the pitch, but they put on a mean World Cup.


From Belfast Telegraph