What a fantastic performance from the All Blacks. Accuracy. Efficiency. Every player turned up and demonstrated why they’ve been selected in the top team.
The All Black's impressive record at Auckland's Eden Park remains intact. The last time they lost there was against the French in 1994. The current French selection showed no signs of being able to storm New Zealand rugby's parade, losing 37-17 to the Rugby World Cup hosts.
The French game confirms the All Blacks are the team to beat in this year’s tournament. The coaches assembled here for the William Webb Ellis will be analysing the All Blacks and attempting to devise strategies that will provide the ABs with a sterner challenge than what the French produced.
Unfortunately, it’s a win which history prefers we don’t celebrate. It’s a great step in the right direction to the country’s biggest party ever. But there’s still a bit more winning to be done.
So what are the key take-outs from this game?
(1) With a specialist number eight, no-one will beat the All Blacks. The ABs win is made even more incredible given that neither Thomson nor McCaw regularly play number eight. A fit Kieran Reid will further transform this team.
(2) Ma’a Nonu. It’s almost like Nonu was born to make this tournament his. He gave an inspiring performance last night, cutting up the French defence with aplomb. All the lessons he’s learnt from tests previously played have come together to make this one master of the universe that (thankfully) sits in our midfield.
(3) Israel Dagg is the country’s number one fullback. Not certain where he gets all his confidence from, but each time he gets the ball (regardless of where he is on the field) he causes a little mayhem in the opposition ranks.
(3) Although most of the credit for last night’s win will go the pretty boys that play in the outside back positions, one of the stars of the night was undoubtedly Sam Whitelock. Whirlwind Sam Whitelock. The All Blacks' first three tries all stemmed from Whitelock lineout wins.
(4) The forward pack destroyed their French opponents. What a unit. Well lead by McCaw. A great way to celebrate his 100th test game. Kaino continues to impress.
(5) A clinical defensive performance, strong in the opening ten minutes and destroying France’s gallant attempts to score first.
(6) Dan Carter scored a drop-kick. Not sensational news, really, but suggests the All Blacks are ready for all eventualities including having to nab an unconventional (in New Zealand rugby terms) three pointer.
The intercept. Plouf-plouf. It was a text book Carlos Spencer pass. Proof that our guys are human.
(7) Cory Jane. The wing spot should be his. On Twitter, his fans were getting excited as their star was trending globally. Unfortunately for Jane, the whole SBW thing has robbed him of game time and the attention he deserves. Shame Kahui got a knock.
(8) Piri Weepu. Has there ever been a better leader of the Haka? A source of pride for his nation, his culture and his people. A strong game at halfback.
However, the contest for the nine spot is still open. Andy Ellis proved that playing behind that pack helps a halfback look good. Cowan will probably start at halfback against Canada. The Canuck match will represent Cowan’s visit to the last chance saloon as the All Blacks concrete positions prior to the knockout games.
But with the good we need to apply some caution. Many teams are starting to show healthy signs of improvement.
The French were not convincing up-front or in midfield.
(9) France gave it all last night. Conspiracy theorists will struggle to find evidence of a French surrender.
The big error the French made was back-foot defence in the midfield (especially off the set-piece). The French backline, at times, seemed very hesitant in defence.
The difference between world-class and good teams is that the former don’t allow opponents to score tries off set-pieces. The Australians showed in Brisbane that to beat the All Blacks your defence has to play a highly intense, blitzing game, allowing no room to Carter or Nonu.
The French midfield looked as ordinary on attack. Shuffling the ball across the field rather than searching for gaps, the French midfield did their dynamic wingers Medard and Clerc no favours in creating space for them to explore and explode.
(10) French teams have always been known for their tough forward packs, hard men who are not above applying a bit of tickle to unnerve their opponents.
The French team normally includes at least two individuals who look like foreign legion veterans who have served gruelling campaigns in the harshest corners of our globe; props who communicate in a language made up of onomatopoeia, words like boom, whack, thud and crash. Where were those guys? Where did all that discipline come from?
In beating the French, the All Blacks gave the best team performance seen thus far in the World Cup. We must applaud the effort displayed. The French are a good team. Depending on the draw (irony), they have the ability to make the finals. There was absolutely no way they were playing to lose last night.
The All Blacks will meet tougher games, not necessarily sides or individual players but the actual manner in which the opponents play. New Zealand’s commanding performance against the French showed a team buoyed with determination and increasing confidence that is developing a precise readiness for the ensuing sudden death games.
The tournament has been great thus far, just you wait until the quarters!