Billy Slater scores the opening try for Australia. Photo: Getty Images
MANCHESTER: Australian fullback Billy Slater made a spectacular return from injury to make amends for his gaffe in the 2008 World Cup final as New Zealand’s gamble on the fitness of winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck backfired.
Slater scored two tries in a stunning performance after making a remarkable recovery from a knee injury that had been expected to end his tournament two weeks ago but Tuivasa-Sheck lasted just eight minutes before succumbing to the leg injury he suffered in last week’s semi-final against of England.
Man of the match: Johnathan Thurston of Australia. Photo: Getty Images
Kangaroos centre Jarryd Hayne also appeared to be heavily concussed attempting to tackle Simon Mannering early in the match but he remained on the field and was one of the best players for the new world champions.
However, questions are likely to be asked about the game’s concussion rules as Hayne was down in backplay for three tackles and appeared unsteady on his feet.
Neither team had an outside back on the bench and the Kiwis were forced to play backrower Alex Glenn on the wing – a move the Kangaroos successfully exploited..
And over: Cooper Cronk of Australia scores after scooping up a kick by Darius Boyd. Photo: Getty Images
It was unlikely to have made a difference though, as the Kangaroos turned in a brilliant defensive effort to nullify their opponents and become the first Australian team not to concede a try in five matches.
While the quality of their opposition in the previous four matches could be questioned, New Zealand have been the best attacking game at the World Cup and boast brilliant players such as Sonny Bill Williams, Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson.
Williams again led the way for the Kiwis, making 150 metres from 17 runs with the ball, which included three tackle breaks.
Brett Morris scores a try set up by Andrew Fifita. Photo: AP
While Williams managed five offloads – just one less than the Australian team combined, he was always heavily marked.
The Kangaroos kicking game was a significant factor, controlling the game through the boots of skipper Cameron Smith and halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk,
Smith’s kick to trap Kevin Locke in-goal in the 17th minute was a key play and Slater scored the first of his two tries on the next set of tackles after latching onto a short kick towards the goal posts from Thurston.
Luke ended a spectacular passage of play with a brilliant try saving tackle on Cronk after Hayne picked up a spilt kick from Vatuvei and kicked infield unaware the tackle count had been re-started by referee Richard Silverwood.
Cronk fielded the kick over the tryline and looked set to score but Luke showed great urgency to roll him on his back and stop the Australian halfback from scoring.
However, Cronk scored five minutes later in almost as spectacular fashion after winger Darius Boyd broke into the clear and grubbered ahead.
The Kangaroos led 16-2 at halftime and any hope the world record Test crowd of 74468 had of a New Zealand comeback was doused almost immediately after the interval when Slater scored.
The fullback, whose wayward pass in goal virtually gifted the 2008 World Cup to New Zealand after Benji Marshall scooped up the loose ball to score, finished a movement in which man of the match Thurston sent Boyd racing down the touchline and he passed inside for Slater to stroll over the tryline.
Winger Brett Morris also scored two tries as Australia cruised in the second half to run out 34-2 winners as the Kiwis were forced into errors chancing their hand.
“It is a dream come true, it has been a long six weeks and to win a World Cup with your mates doesn’t get much better,” Thurston said.
“Our defence was rock solid and that is what won us the match. We have worked so hard as a team to win the World Cup.”
Australian coach Tim Sheens said:”I’m extremely proud, our defence was great, our attitude was terrific. We’re very pleased to win it.”
AUSTRALIA 34 (B Morris 2 B Slater 2 C Cronk tries J Thurston 7 goals) bt NEW ZEALAND 2 (S Johnson goal) at Old Trafford. Referee: Richard Silverwood.