New Zealand will finish 2009 as the world's number-one ranked team thanks to an impressive 39-12 win over France in Marseille.
New Zealand will finish 2009 as the world's number-one ranked team thanks to an impressive 39-12 win over France at the Stade VÃ©lodrome in Marseille on Saturday.
A lot has been said about the state of the game over the past few days, but I challenge anyone calling for a change in the laws to go back and watch this game and then tell me that running rugby is dead.
Tries are there to be scored if you've got the balls to have a go…and the skills to pull it off.
This is what Test rugby should be all about. A ding-dong battle in the scrums, creativity amongst the backs and, most of all, a high-paced game that tested the skills of both attackers and defenders rather than just the kicking capabilities of the fly-halves and full-backs.
The All Blacks answered their critics with a wonderful display of positive rugby, and were rewarded with five tries.
While Tri-Nations champions South Africa have looked tired and uninspired on tour in November, New Zealand were full of zip and zest in Marseille.
Unlike against the Springboks, the French were unable to grab a stranglehold on the game with their powerful forwards as the visitors were eager to take the ball out wide at pace.
In fact both sides should be commended for the positive spirit with which they approached the game – the All Blacks however made the difference with their near-flawless execution.
Perhaps most the impressive aspect of New Zealand's tour is the fact that – just like last year – they have yet to concede a try on this tour.
The French front row looked a like a pack of hungry wolves after winning their side a penalty at the first scrum and Julien Dupuy obliged by slotting the three points to give France the early lead.
New Zealand however replied with a brilliant try from Sitiveni Sivivatu who simply blitzed Vincent Clerc and Damien Traille, slicing between the two Frenchmen who could little but watch him sail by.
Les Bleus kept coming as Dupuy added two more penalties, including a second against the Kiwi scrum to take the lead back at 9-7. But not for long.
The All Blacks' second try was even better than the first as Sivivatu turned on the gas from his own 22 before finding Mils Muliaina up in support.
Dan Carter added the conversion and then a penalty to give the visitors some breathing space before the All Black scrum took their revenge by pushing the Tricolor pack backwards on the French line.
Under the pressure Julien Bonnaire fumbled his pick up, allowing Jerome Kaino to dot down the loose ball.
Francois Trinh-Duc landed a long distance drop goal shortly before the half-time whistle to make the scores 22-12.
But, the second half however belonged solely to New Zealand.
When Dupuy missed two early attempts at goal it became clear it wasn't to be France's night.
Cory Jane was next to get on the scoreboard with a classic individual try, collecting his own kick ahead from the touchline to score under the posts.
With France running out of ideas and leaving gaps all over the park, Conrad Smith snuck away down an unattended blindside to rub salt into the wounds.
A late fling from France produced no more points.
Marc LiÃ¨vremont and his team with have to continue building if they are to challenge their group partners and hosts at the next World cup.
Man of the match: He's had a tough year and was distinctly out of form during the Tri-Nations but Sitiveni Sivivatu was back to his very best – scoring one try, setting up another and putting in some big hits.
Moment of the match: For half an hour it was anyone's game, but when the All Blacks scrum stepped up and earned Jerome Kaino's try, New Zealand moved out of France's reach. It wasn't the prettiest of tries, but it had a telling effect on the match as a whole.
Villain of the match:Plenty of handbags were flung about, but there was no clear bad guy.
Pens: Dupuy 3
For New Zealand:
Tries:Sivivatu, Muliaina, Kaino, Jane, Smith
Cons: Carter 4
Yellow cards: Franks (NZ – 77th – foul play)
France: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 David Marty, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Maxime MÃ©dard, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Romain Millo-Chluski, 4 SÃ©bastien Chabal, 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 William Servat, 1 Fabien Barcella.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Nicolas Mas, 18 Lionel Nallet, 19 Julien Puricelli, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 Yann David, 22 CÃ©dric Heymans.
New Zealand:15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Luke McAlister.
Venue: Stade VÃ©lodrome
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match officials: Nigel Whitehouse(Wales)
Assessor: Paul Bridgman (England)
By Ross Hastie