World Cup - New Zealand trounce France to win Pool A
Hosts New Zealand clinched top spot in Pool A at the rugby World Cup with a game to spare by beating France 37-17 on a celebratory day at Eden Park as captain Richie McCaw became the first All Black to win 100 caps.
Haunted by the memories of premature exits at the hands of the French in the 1999 and 2007 tournaments, New Zealanders had been jittery all week at the prospect of facing the Europeans.
But tries from Adam Thomson, Cory Jane, Sonny Bill Williams and two from fullback Israel Dagg as well as 12 points from the boot of Dan Carter allowed them to bury the ghosts of past World Cup failures for the group stage at least.
The New Zealand pack, led by Richie McCaw in his 100th test with lock Sam Whitelock also oustanding, overpowered the French in the scrum and harried them in the loose to allow their backs the perfect platform to display their skills.
"We had to absorb a fair bit early on and I am proud the boys did that and when we got our opportunities we put points on the board," said McCaw. "In big tests that's what you have got to do, so very happy."
For the first nine minutes, it had looked like Eden Park might possibly experience a shock to rank alongside Ireland's victory over Australia last Saturday as the French took the early initiative and camped in the New Zealand half.
A rampaging charge from centre Ma'a Nonu in the 10th minute turned the tide, however, with number eight Adam Thomson reaping the benefits to cross in the corner for the game's opening try.
Just 11 minutes later and the All Blacks were 19-0 up.
Cory Jane scored the second try when came off his wing to take a neat inside pop pass from scrumhalf Piri Weepu and dash 40 metres through the cover defence to touch down.
Four minutes later, it was the turn of flyhalf Carter to make the line-break and he drew the final defender to allow Dagg to touch down unopposed.
Rattled after the three-try blitz, France did manage to regroup and held their own for the remainder of the half with scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili finally getting some points on the board with a penalty just before the break.
The All Blacks came out firing after halftime, however, and within a minute another Carter line break got them within five metres of the French line before Dagg danced his way through the defence to secure the bonus point with his second try.
Carter, who had converted three of the four tries, added a penalty five minutes later to extend the lead to 29-3 but gifted France their first try when his long mispass was intercepted by centre Maxime Mermoz on 54 minutes.
New Zealand's golden boy made some amends 10 minutes later with a slick drop goal to extend the lead to 32-10 and effectively end any French hopes of a comeback.
France, whose gamble on playing scrumhalf Morgan Parra at flyhalf did not pay off, restored some pride with a try from Parra's replacement Francois Trinh-Duc after a series of five-metre scrums four minutes from time.
But the All Blacks hammered home their superiority immediately with Sonny Bill Williams, on as a replacement for Jane, going over in the corner after a superb sweeping move.
The French, who play Tonga in their final pool match on Oct. 1, are still likely to finish second in the group and reach the last eight.
"We made too many mistakes," said France captain Thierry Dusautoir. "We (conceded) too many tries to the All Blacks. They made a difference in the first half. We came back at the end of the second half.
"We need to work hard and I think this is a good lesson for us."
10’ Thompson try: New Zealand 5-0
17’ Jane try: New Zealand 10-0
17’ Carter conversion: New Zealand 12-0
21’ Dagg try: New Zealand 17-0
22’ Carter conversion: New Zealand 19-0
38’ Yachvilli penalty: 19-3 France
41’ Dagg try: New Zealand 24-3
43’ Carter conversion: New Zealand 26-3
47’ Carter penalty: New Zealand 29-3
54’ Mermoz try: 29-8 France
55’ Yachvilli conversion: 29-10 France
64’ Carter drop goal: New Zealand 32-10
76’ Trinh-Duc try: 32-15 France
76’ Yachvilli conversion: 32-17 France
77’ Williams try: New Zealand 37-17