TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom (AFP) - This was the match Dan Carter had waited four years for and, appropriately, he landed the decisive blow as New Zealand beat Australia 34-17 in the World Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Carter's dreams of bowing out from Test rugby a World Cup-winner were in danger of being dashed as New Zealand, who had been cruising at 21-3 up early in the second half, saw Australia cut their lead to 21-17.
But man-of-the-match Carter stilled the fightback with a superbly-taken 35m drop-goal - only the eighth of his Test career - 11 minutes from time to ease the All Blacks into a seven-point lead at 24-17.
Australia's hopes of completing an astonishing fightback ended when Carter, who scored 19 points in all, kicked a penalty from half-way six minutes from time.
Injury denied Carter, one of rugby union's greatest fly-halves, a place in the New Zealand side when they won the 2011 World Cup final on home soil.
But the 33-year-old, international rugby union's all-time leading points scorer, battled his way back and confounded the doubts of those who questioned if he was still at his best.
“I’m pretty grateful to be where I am considering what happened four years ago,” said Carter at a post-match presentation ceremony.
“I’m so proud of the team. To win back-to-back World Cups is a dream come true.
“We try to do things no other team has done before... it’s a special feeling to be part of such a great team,” he added.
In his 112th and last international before he joins Paris-based Racing 92 - New Zealand don't select overseas-based players for Test duty - Carter was in fine form.
He kicked three penalties and then, with his deliberate 'round the corner, left-footed, style landed a difficult touchline conversion of a try by right wing Nehe Milner-Skudder on the stroke of half-time to ease the All Blacks into a 16-3 interval lead.
But his tactical kicking out of hand, which saw him repeatedly make Australia defend line-outs close to their own try-line, was also typically top-class as well.
There, were, however, a couple of worrying moments.
In the 20th minute, Carter was late-tackled by Australia prop Sekope Kepu and then stayed down on the turf.
If any country could collectively both hold its breath and howl with outrage at the same time, it was New Zealand at that precise moment.
Carter, with a bandage protecting his right knee, then got to his feet and played on.
Kepu then continued his bid to become public enemy number one in New Zealand with a high tackle on Carter five minutes later.
Referee Nigel Owens gave Kepu a stern talking to, rather than a yellow card demanded by the legion of All Blacks fans in a capacity Twickenham crowd of 80,125.
But Carter issued his own particular kind of retribution by kicking the ensuing penalty to make it 6-3.
Early in the second half, after fellow veteran Ma'a Nonu scored a scintillating try on a zig-zag run after good work by replacement back Sonny Bill Williams, Carter missed the conversion.
If nothing else, Carter's lone off-target effort of the match, proved that even the best can miss.
But normal service was ultimately resumed, with Carter setting the seal on New Zealand's victory when he converted replacement Beauden Barrett's late try under the posts.