In perhaps their most complete performance since Rugby World Cup 2011, the All Blacks have dispatched France 30-0 to clinch their three-match series a week early.
The win came on the back of strong defence, an outstanding kicking game and the ability to turn defence into attack to make their pressure count. They completely dominated every aspect of the game as the French were reduced to rushing kicks away from inside their 22 for much of the game.
It was the first 10 minutes of the second half that were key with the score at 10-0 to the All Blacks. During this period, the French launched an assault on the All Blacks' line, getting almost as close as they could to scoring without actually doing so. For 30 phases they hammered away at the resolute black wall of defence, which never broke.
Not only were they unable to score, they completely gave up on trying, surrendering to the superior All Black defence and taking a dropped goal instead. However, this was not a particularly good option, as after being charged down by Sam Cane, the All Blacks regathered the ball and made a break through Julian Savea, which was finished by Ben Smith to score a try at the other end.
This took the scoreline to 17-0, and the game was essentially won there and then. Had France persisted with trying to score, or had they been capable of scoring, the score would have gone to 10-7 with half an hour still to play. But it was the unbreakable defence of the All Blacks, coupled with their ability to turn this into points, that took the game away from the French.
Perhaps you could say it was karma for playing such negative rugby.
Up until this point France had never looked in the game. The All Blacks executed one of the all-time great kicking performances, constantly finding space in behind the French defensive line and applying pressure by chasing. The French back three were left clueless and under enormous pressure to either try to clear or do their best when being caught in a tackle.
It was a hopeless situation for them to be in, not helped by their dysfunctional lineout, which was under all sorts of pressure from Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock, meaning the All Blacks could kick for touch knowing they had a fair chance of getting the ball back.
The start of the second half was the first time France really had a chance to do anything and was a time where they needed to if they were to stay in the game.
After this point the All Blacks began to regain dominance and looked to attack more with ball in hand. After adding an extra two penalties and taking the score to 23-0, they were forced to defend once again as France launched their second assault on the New Zealand line.
But such was the resolve of this All Blacks team—they never looked like cracking. Tackling everything that came at them, turning the ball over and then spinning it wide to Rene Ranger, who began the break that led to one of the great All Black tries to finish the game.
Best for the All Blacks were the trio of Israel Dagg, Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden, all of whom employed the kicking tactic so effectively. Dagg in particular stood out and answered many of his critics by delivering an outstanding performance, taking some good high ball and having sublime positional play along with his kicking.
As they say, a kick is only as good as its chase, and here Ben Smith was key, applying pressure to the kicks and preventing France from getting out of their 22 easily. Conrad Smith, Liam Messam and Sam Cane were strong leading the defensive line on the chase too, never letting the French through when they tried to counter.
Julian Savea was the most dangerous of the backs, looking devastating with ball in hand and being used far more than he was last week.
Kieran Read was the best of the forwards, running strongly to provide front football for his backs to work with, defending heroically and being the key player in disrupting the French lineout.
But it was as a team that this All Black team won so dominantly against France. They won through their resolute defence, their silky skills and their intelligence in the first half.
Just one final thought: This was the All Blacks without Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter, the two players who for over a decade it was said they could not do without. At least we now know in Aaron Cruden and Sam Cane, the All Blacks have two more-than-capable replacements for their two superstars when they eventually move on.
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