For a brief few moments, it looked like New Zealand's bid to make rugby history might go up in the smoke trails left behind by the prematch Red Arrows flyover.
Often derided in the past as 'chokers' on the big stage, the All Blacks were facing the prospect of being the first team to lose a World Cup final after leading at halftime.
Two minutes after the break, their advantage against Australia was 18 points. Just 20 minutes later, it was cut to four -- and the Wallabies were on the front foot, aiming to also make history by becoming the first three-time winner of the tournament.
But this New Zealand side is like no other. In 2011 the All Blacks limped to an 8-7 win over France in the final in front of their home fans, ending a 24-year wait to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time.
On that day, Dan Carter watched from the sidelines on crutches, having been ruled out with injury before the knockout stages even began. Four years before that, international rugby's leading points scorer went off injured as New Zealand suffered a shock quarterfinal defeat against France.
This time, in his 112th and final match in the revered black jersey, the 33-year-old shook off his past heartbreak to show his class when his teammates most needed him.
Having seen a 21-3 lead chopped to 21-17, Carter -- as he did in the semifinal win against South Africa -- kicked a vital drop-goal with 10 minutes to go that helped stem the tide of yellow and gold attacks. He then kicked a long-range penalty from just inside his own half to ease the beating hearts of All Blacks fans.
It spurred the Wallabies into further desperate action, which allowed replacement Beauden Barrett to deliver the perfect sucker punch, winning the race to Ben Smith's counter kick and smartly guiding the ball over the try line.
Carter duly added the conversion, giving him a career total of 1,598 points -- over 350 more than his closest rival Jonny Wilkinson, who retired from Tests in 2011 -- and securing the All Blacks' status as the best team in the world, and the first to ever retain the title.
But as coach Steve Hansen pointed out after the match, this All Blacks team is not about one person.
Captain Richie McCaw, playing what is expected to be his final and record-extending 148th Test match, defied those who said Australia would win the battle of the back-row trios.
'There was a lot of talk about that but I think we won that battle, and Richie led our trio,' Hansen told reporters.
'Richie is the greatest All Black we've ever had, and Dan is a close second, if only because he (gesturing to McCaw at his side) shouldn't play 148 matches as a flanker, that's unheard of.'
McCaw, who played through the 2011 final with a broken foot, is not expected to follow Carter by ending his career with a lucrative overseas move.
But others in this All Blacks team will -- veteran centers Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith will be playing alongside Carter in France's Top 14 competition.
Both also made key contributions -- Smith created vital space that allowed winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to score his sixth try of the tournament just before halftime.
His halftime replacement Sonny Bill Williams made an immediate impact with an outrageous offload that gave Nonu the platform to run 40 meters through the parting Wallabies defense and score the second try. At 33, he was the oldest to do so in a World Cup final.
Hansen had to rebuild the team when he stepped up from his role as Graham Henry's assistant in 2007 and 2011, and he says there are plenty of players in the squad who can continue the All Blacks' dynasty and philosophy.
'We set out four years ago to do something special,' he said. 'We came here with players who have the right experience, and there are those who have played 20-40 Tests who can take this team on from here.'
Carter was able to celebrate with his family after the match, and received a congratulatory hug from Britain's Prince Harry as he received his long-awaited winner's medal.
'I'm pretty grateful to be where I am considering what happened four years ago,' he told the crowd of 80,000 -- most of whom stayed in the stadium for the 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.'
Carter was named man of the match, also kicking three penalties in a first half when he was twice taken out illegally by Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu.
The front-rower was lucky to remain on the field, having been given the benefit of the doubt on both occasions by referee Nigel Owens.
Carter's third penalty, in the 36th minute, came following a backline move where Owens and his English linesman Wayne Barnes failed to spot a forward pass by Milner-Skudder, and Australia scrumhalf Will Genia was subsequently punished for offside play at the breakdown.
The Wallabies lost influential inside center Matt Giteau to concussion, with the 33-year-old's 102nd international appearance ending inside the half hour.
By that stage, Australia lock Kane Douglas had already gone off injured as both sets of players made a punishing start to the match.
However it was the All Blacks who ended up going down to 14 men when fullback Ben Smith was yellow-carded for a dangerous tip-tackle in the 52nd minute.
Australia took full advantage as No. 8 David Pocock drove over from the resulting lineout, then in the 64th minute center Tevita Kuridrani finished off after a clever kick caught out the New Zealand defense.
'It's obviously very painful to lose, it's a great campaign and we wanted to carry it on,' said coach Michael Cheika, who has transformed the Wallabies since taking over a year ago.
Australia is the only team to beat New Zealand this year, on the way to winning the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship title, ending the All Blacks' dominance in the competition.
'I think we've made good ground in that area in the last 12 months,' Cheika added. 'We are just starting and want to do really good things for Australian rugby going forward.'
No northern hemisphere team reached the semifinals, with England the first host nation to be knocked out in the group stage.
The All Blacks and Wallabies have provided suitable entertainment for the biggest crowds in the tournament's 28-year history, as have Argentina's much-improved Pumas -- beaten 24-13 by South Africa in Friday's third-place playoff.
More than 2.4 million fans attended the 48 games over six weeks, despite high ticket prices making it one of the most expensive sporting events ever held.
Hansen hopes his team has made some new friends ahead of its title defense in Japan in four years' time.
Williams, for example, was pictured after the final giving his winner's medal to a young fan. The dual-code international was also praised for consoling a Springboks opponent after the semifinal.
'We're not the big, bad ogres we're sometimes made out to be in the media,' Hansen said.
'We're ordinary people who can play rugby reasonably well.'
In a footnote to the final, Williams was presented with another winning medal Sunday by organizers in recognition of his gesture, which gathered world wide praise on social media.
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