Clinical All Blacks keep France scoreless
RICHARD KNOWLER IN CHRISTCHURCH
With a 30-0 win over the French and the Dave Gallaher trophy secured, the All Blacks thumped the table and delivered an emphatic message tonight.
Question marks were hanging over the men in black after their error-ridden 23-13 win in the first test in Auckland but at AMI Stadium they shouted to the rugby world that even without Dan Carter and Richie McCaw they are a mighty force.
No player would have been more relieved after this victory than fullback Israel Dagg.
His mediocre form leading into this fixture had dominated much of the pre-match chatter and forced All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to defend his No 15 by stating it was only a matter of time before the "magic'' was returned to his game.
Dagg repaid his coach by clinically pouching several high balls, felling opponents on defence and running like a gazelle on attack.
It was around the 50th minute when the New Zealanders, led by the inspirational captain Kieran Read in his 50th test, grabbed the megaphone and blared out the message that their IRB rating as the No 1 team is justified.
Firstly they produced a mighty defensive wall that was as solid as steel, which involved hits from lock Luke Romano through to Dagg, and that resulted in the French playmaker Frederic Michalak fluttering a white flag by attempting a drop-goal.
What followed next will have Hansen salivating over the highlights reel.
Open side flanker Sam Cane, who must have been near exhaustion after spending so long on his heels, charged down Michalak's kick.
A spectacular counter-attack followed; it involved hooker Dan Coles and left wing Julian Savea and resulted in right wing Ben Smith scoring the try that took them out to a 15-0 lead.
The Frenchmen's spirit was broken.
Worse was to come for the tourists.
A late try to replacement back Beauden Barrett was breathtaking.
It involved a 90m attack that involved magic touches from Rene Ranger, a clever kick from Conrad Smith, and a brilliant pass by first five-eighth Aaron Cruden to the flying Barrett.
But France did themselves little favours.
For long periods they failed to creep into the New Zealanders' territory, their lineout was a shambles and in the second spell they lost top No 8 Louis Picamoles when he was stretchered from the field.
Sam Whitelock and Ma'a Nonu played pivotal roles in Savea's try in the fourth minute; lock Whitelock, lurking in the middle of the lineout and showing little signs of being troubled by his cracked finger, robbed a French throw near their line and when the ball was regurgitated midfielder Nonu slipped through a dainty left-foot grubber for Savea to nab.
Nonu, again, proved why he is one of the enigmas of New Zealand rugby.
His lukewarm form with the Highlanders was again miles away from this effort in the black jersey.
The second five-eighth not only created Savea's try, he recovered from several cracking defensive hits and almost set-up a try for Dagg when he tore on to a missile pass from halfback Aaron Smith and blasted into clear space.
Only some French subterfuge, supporter runner Ben Smith was slowed by a sneaky jersey-tug, and Dagg's decision to ignore Savea on his left prevented the All Blacks rattling-up a five-pointer.
Recent history has shown the All Blacks have struggled to subdue their opponents in Christchurch.
The shoddy mid-winter weather has no doubt played a role but it also raised questions as to whether having so many Cantabrians in the squad meant they were sub-consciously distracted by being so close to home and their friends and families.
There could be no question of any of those locals being distracted last night and captain and Read was out to prove a point.
France have a real talent in Picamoles but Read is a shade above the man from Toulouse. He was the All Blacks' everywhere man as this memorable victory unfolded.
All Blacks 30 (Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett tries; Aaron Cruden 3 cons, 3 pen) France 0. HT: 10-0.
Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?