TWICKENHAM (England) • Dan Carter left the international stage as New Zealand's hero in their historic World Cup win over Australia that opened up a new era of All Black domination of rugby.
The 33-year-old world-record points scorer hit a decisive drop goal for the second straight game to guide his side to a 34-17 triumph that left rivals wondering what they have to do to knock the rugby kings off their throne.
New Zealand became the first team to win the Cup three times, the first to triumph in two straight tournaments and it was the first time they have claimed the World Cup away from home.
Carter said winning was the "ultimate achievement".
"Becoming the first team to retain the trophy shows how special this side is," said the man of the match who missed the 2011 World Cup final win over France because of injury.
The fly-half kicked 19 points in his last international to take his record points tally to 1,598.
As in the semi-final, when New Zealand were under pressure, he took control with a drop kick - this time a blistering 51m rocket that all but killed Australia's hopes of getting back into the game.
The Wallabies had got to within four points in the second half by capitalising on the sin-binning of All Blacks full-back Ben Smith.
Said All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster: "When we needed him (Carter) to step up and make some decisions and go out on a bit of a limb and have a crack at the drop-kick again, he did it."
Earlier, Ma'a Nonu scored one of the tries of the tournament to push the All Blacks' lead to 21-3.
He touched down at the end of a storming 40m run after a pass from replacement Sonny Bill Williams.
Test centurions Carter (112), Nonu (103), Keven Mealamu (132) and Tony Woodcock (118) are also stepping away from internationals, while skipper Richie McCaw has been tipped to retire.
But the 34-year-old was so excited by the win that he said he would not think about his future until he returns home. "I still don't want it to end to be honest," said McCaw.
"If you get moments like this, why would you ever call it a day?"
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said Carter and captain McCaw, competing in a record 148th Test, were the best players in All Black history.
"Richie is the best All Black we have ever had and Dan is a close second," he said. "The challenge for the other guys now is to try and become as great as him and Dan."
Despite one of the biggest exoduses of talent in sports history, New Zealand have already been installed as even favourites to win a third successive title in Japan in four years.
The All Blacks have suffered just three defeats in 54 Tests since winning the 2011 World Cup.
"The greatest team ever? Possibly. For the moment, let's just all agree that this is the best team in World Cup history," former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick wrote in the Sunday Times.
Australia coach Michael Cheika said the only way for the rest of international rugby to keep pace with New Zealand was by sheer dogged persistence.
"You just stay at it: Keep trying to improve... We're lucky we get to play them regularly and test ourselves. You've got to mark yourself against the best and I think we have made good ground over the last 12 months," he said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE