All Blacks seal series, Gallaher Trophy

MARC HINTON AT AMI STADIUM
Last updated 05:00 16/06/2013
Israel Dagg
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ Zoom
All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg breaks a tackle in the second test.

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It was the French coach who called for the clinical rugby this week, but the All Blacks who delivered it in making their first decisive move of Steve Hansen's ambitious plan to regenerate his world champions.

After a rusty and stop-start effort in Auckland last week, this was more like it from the new-generation All Blacks, shutting out France 30-0.

Even though it had been French coach Philippe Saint-Andre who had challenged his team to deliver a more clinical performance in the second hitout of this three-test series, it was the New Zealanders who made the serious step up in execution and class.

The All Blacks won the kicking battle by a handsome margin with a display that was on the mark right from the first swing of their boot, and from there they backed it up with a chase game to match, and a vastly improved effort at the set piece.

Led brilliantly by Kieran Read in his 50th test, the home players won all the big battles and made all the big statements on a heartening night for the future of the world's No 1 team.

The French were never in this contest, pinned in the wrong parts of the field for long periods and never able to find the holes in the All Black defence that they'd managed a week earlier. It was the first time in their history they have failed to score against the All Blacks.

It was a top-drawer effort from the world champs on a cool night in front of a sellout crowd of nearly 22,000. They ran in three scintillating tries and outplayed the visitors from go to whoa.

Several players made serious statements too. Up front Read was back to his blockbusting best, one 50m run in the first half a classic example of that. Sam Whitelock was special in a late callup from the injury ward, dominant in the lineout and matching the off-the-charts workrate of Brodie Retallick from the week earlier.

The scrum was strong, lineout outstanding and Sam Cane and Liam Messam also had very good tests in a much improved breakdown effort. Ma'a Nonu was the backline star, but he headed a stellar cast with Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg and a much sharper Aaron Cruden all confirming their class. Julian Savea, too, caused all sorts of problems with his hard running.

It had been a swift start from the All Blacks on the back of - would you believe? - two quality kicks from Nonu for an early 7-0 lead. The first forced the French to throw to the lineout 10 metres from their line and the second, after a nice piece of mid-air thievery from Sam Whitelock, put Savea in for his 13th try in just his 11th test.

It was clear from the outset that the world champions had a game-plan based around playing in the right parts of a fairly sodden field, and their kicking game (as well as chasing one) was right on the money.

That the home team took just a 10-0 led into the sheds after 40 pretty dominant minutes was slightly disappointing. With the French lineout in disarray, the visitors spent much of the half buried deep in their own territory and would have been ecstatic to leak just a further three points via Cruden's boot.

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Nonu, who was back to his line-breaking best, made a clean break just shy of the half-hour mark that probably should have yielded a try. But Dagg was held up and the French escaped without damage.

It was that sort of a half for the All Blacks. They were switched on and dominant, but just could not rattle up the points to go with their ascendancy. No doubt Hansen's message at the break was a pretty simple one: "Stick with it, fellas, the rewards will come."

Sure enough, that 10-point lead grew to 17 after 10 minutes with a stunning seven-pointer to wing Ben Smith - just his third try in his 14th test.

Ironically, it came after a period of sustained French pressure as they rumbled into the All Blacks' red zone. But the home defence was up to the challenge, tackle after tackle driving back the multi-phase French attack, until eventually Frederic Michalak resorted to a desperation dropped goal attempt that was charged down by Cane.

From there the men in black pounced. Possession was snaffled 60m out, young hooker Dane Coles made a very good decision to find Savea on the inpass and he put Ben Smith in for an unchallenged run to the posts.

There was time yet for one more flourish - with a stunning length-of-the field breakout that started with Cruden's wide pass to Rene Ranger and ended with substitute Beauden Barrett dashing clear to dot down between the posts.

Brilliant try to cap a brilliant night for the All Blacks.

All Blacks 30 (Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett tries; Aaron Cruden 3 cons, 3 pen) France 0. HT: 10-0.

- Sunday Star Times

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