Israel Dagg scored two tries as New Zealand romped to a comfortable 37-17 World Cup win over France at Eden Park on Saturday.
Israel Dagg claimed two tries as New Zealand romped to a comfortable 37-17 Rugby World Cup win over France at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
The All Blacks could not have asked for a better performance to celebrate captain Richie McCaw's 100th cap and they are now guaranteed to finish atop of Pool A following three-straight maximums.
It was a sunny day in the build-up to the game, with the anticipation palpable around the city as dashes of blue were shadowed by the black. Many of New Zealand's public had waited four years for this chance of redemption, yet there was a feeling of less pressure this time out for two reasons. One was the fact that Marc Lievremont had picked a scrum-half at fly-half in Morgan Parra and the other being the non-catastrophe of losing.
But despite the midweek call from former All Black Zinzan Brooke to lose on purpose, it had never looked remotely possible that New Zealand were after anything other than momentum going into the knockout stages. To be frank, Australia's loss to Ireland hasn't affected their task whatsoever.
Next up, after overcoming Canada next Sunday will be a quarter-final date with either Argentina or Scotland – if things go as expected – and from there the likelihood is they will face South Africa or the Wallabies in the last four. On this kind of form, they'll fear no-one.
France were not here to just make up the numbers though and quickly set the tone with a fine run from Vincent Clerc, which led to Parra taking a pot-shot at three points and striking the post. The French then tried the cross-field route via Dimitri Yachvili, who found Damien Traille on the wing. However, Lievremont's go-to Mr Reliable at full-back spilled possession under pressure from Cory Jane. France had the upper hand of that there was no doubt.
Five missed tackles in the first seven minutes pretty much told the story at Eden Park until a moment arrived that arguably turned the game on its head. One scrummage.
The All Blacks earned themselves a huge morale-boosting penalty from that set-piece in their own half and quickly the territory pressure cloud they had been under was lifted.
New Zealand sensed they had weathered the early storm and set about giving the French a taste of their own medicine. Ma'a Nonu was the architect as he split through the midfield on halfway, taking his side to within five metres, before recycled ball found its way left to flank-cum-winger Adam Thomson. Carter missed his first attempt at goal but the wheels were definitely in motion. Back they came with Jane hitting a superb angle from a line-out 30 metres out that doubled the home side's advantage. This time Carter was on-target and New Zealand were subsequently 12-0 up with only eighteen minutes on the clock.
Things were about to get a whole lot better too as an on-song Carter joined the party with a lovely dummy and break through the line that saw him hand on to a supporting Dagg under the uprights. It seemed that the ghost of 2007 was well-and-truly banished as New Zealand were going for the jugular – a fourth try before the interval.
French fans meanwhile were becoming increasingly frustrated at what was unfolding as McCaw began to get his way at the breakdown. Although an off-the-ball incident involving very slight elbow contact from Jerome Kaino on Yachvili eventually gave France something.
It proved futile as New Zealand took a mere one minute, nineteen seconds to reply upon the turnaround as Carter again spotted an opening before the try eventually came for a stepping Dagg. There was now no doubt that Graham Henry had made the right call in selection.
Carter added a further three points from the kicking tee seven minutes later to stretch things further to 29-3 and at that point, the French looked like being destined for second spot.
Maxime Mermoz did bring a hint of respectability to the scoreline when he intercepted a Carter pass to score from halfway. But there was to be no repeat of 2007, despite replacement fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc also going over from close-range late on.
Sonny Bill Williams responded as the Pool A fixture stretched in the dying embers but what was interesting to see was Carter knock over a drop-goal in the final quarter that, as signs go, showed that the All Blacks look to have learned lessons from previous World Cups. The big question in Auckland and New Zealand though will be will it last the whole distance?
Man of the match: Ma'a Nonu was sublime again at inside centre while Israel Dagg, Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock and Jerome Kaino all put in good shifts. But it was apparent that Daniel Carter seemed to be half-a-step quicker today in both body and mind as he regularly threatened the line while putting in his team-mates on more than one occasion. It looks like he is coming into form at just the right time for New Zealand.
Moment of the match: France were definitely on top in the opening exchanges before a scrummage saw the All Blacks win a penalty. It was a combined statement from Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock and also that the French were now the ones to be on the back foot. And boy did they stagger for the remaining 70 minutes.
Villain of the match: Rugby is a contact sport and the over-reaction of Dimitri Yachvili when Jerome Kaino's hand brushed him left a lot to be desired. The crowd viewed the reply on the big screen and make no mistake, the boos were not aimed at the Blues blindside flanker.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Thomson, Jane, Dagg 2, S.B. Williams
Cons: Carter 3
Tries: Mermoz, Trinh-Duc
Cons: Yachvili 2
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Anthony Boric, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
France 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 AurÃ©lien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Maxime MÃ©dard, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Pascale PapÃ©, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 William Servat, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Imanol Harinordoquy, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 Fabrice Estebanez, 22 CÃ©dric Heymans.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
By Adam Kyriacou at Eden Park