Destructive All Blacks show champion style
Have we caught an early glimpse of the future world champions? I believe we might.
It took New Zealand just eight minutes to break the French. It's easy to say with hindsight, but it's the truth. From the moment fly-half Dan Carter put boot to ball to clear downfield after an inspired French opening, the visitors were done for.
The All Blacks were intent on displaying why they are the hot favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
Marc Lievremont's side had begun as we had all hoped they would. Fired by their successful history in the fixture, fired perhaps also by the stinging criticism of their selections by the local media, they set about opening up the Kiwi chicken coop.
After three minutes, Morgan Parra dropped for goal. As the makeshift fly-half contorted his face in frustration, the ball struck the upright and rebounded underneath the posts.
Louis Picamoles reached high for it, but the All Blacks full-back Israel Dagg wrestled it from his grasp, and released the pressure. It was a moment seemingly frozen in time. France needed to score early to drive belief through their ranks. They had nothing to show for their efforts.
Undeterred, a few minutes later Parra popped a clever cross-field kick towards the hulking Damien Traille on the left wing. Cory Jane's tackle five metres from the tryline was critical, even if it appeared he had taken out the Frenchman in the air.
Cory Jane's tackle on France full-back Damien Traille denied France an early score. Picture: Getty
After eight minutes, New Zealand had hardly touched the ball. They were clinging on, stretching every sinew to live with the impassioned French start. When they finally
saw the precious white pigskin, Carter made sure his kick provided the All Blacks with plenty of room to breathe.
What followed was a remarkable response, from a special New Zealand team. Perhaps we will reflect in four weeks' time that it was in fact a champion response.
In their famous semi-final at the World Cup of 1999, France had scored three tries in a blistering second-half spell which undid the All Black challenge. This time the roles were reversed; this Black blitz at Eden Park featured three tries in just 11 minutes.
No-one at the World Cup has yet found a way to stop Ma'a Nonu. Outstanding all night, he announced himself with a typical bustling burst through the midfield, and the ball was whipped wide for Adam Thomson to touch down.
Cory Jane was next on the scoresheet, ripping through the defence after the softest of delayed passes from scrum-half Piri Weepu. Carter's brilliant 'show and go' let Israel Dagg in for the third. Three quick tries; France shredded. It was 19-0 to New Zealand and there was only 21 minutes on the clock.
The All Black magic was sustained after the break. Dagg's second came thanks to a trademark bust from Sonny Bill Williams and - needless to say - the offload, which found Carter in support. There was a heady cocktail of Kiwi talent on show, and they were enjoying the stage.
The France coach Marc Lievremont said afterwards that he was happy that his side hadn't panicked. They at least made the scoreline respectable with an intercept try from Maxime Mermoz, and Francois Trinh-Duc's opportunist score from a quick tap penalty. The game had threatened to become a complete humiliation.
Appropriately perhaps, the All Blacks had the final say. Ali Williams' brilliant gather at the re-start resulted in Sonny Bill Williams finding his way over in the corner. In amongst all this, Dan Carter had popped over only the fourth drop-goal of his international career.
It is worth mentioning in the light of New Zealand's inability to summon a drop-goal to finish off France at the last World Cup in 2007. The world's best fly-half has been practising, just in case the tactic is required in a tight squeeze later on. On this evidence, it is in full working order, as is his previously troublesome lower back.
It was a destructive performance from New Zealand, who have now declared their hand. We have seen the real All Black side, and even their doubters must recognise that it is a genuine force to be reckoned with.
The victory will parachute them into the arguably tougher 'southern hemisphere' section of the knockout stages. Argentina, South Africa and Australia are likely to lie in wait. The French path now becomes a familiar one, with the prospect of a quarter-final against England or Scotland, and most likely Ireland or Wales in the semis.
Richie McCaw is presented with a special cap in recognition of his 100th Test by former All Blacks captain Jock Hobbs. Picture: Getty
It was a fitting way for Richie McCaw to celebrate his 100th international appearance. The open-side flanker has now become the first All Black to that milestone. He has also helped banish the memories of those painful defeats to France at the World Cups of 1999 and 2007.
To see him accept his commemorative cap from the legendary former New Zealand captain Jock Hobbs after the game was to witness a special moment. Hobbs announced last May that he had been diagnosed with a form of leukaemia. This was his first high-profile public appearance since resigning from the NZRU and the World Cup organising body in December.
"I have got a huge amount of respect for that fella" said McCaw afterwards. "For him to come out and say those words and present that cap, I couldn't think of a better man to be able to do that and to receive it from".
There is still much rugby to be played. But on the evidence of this victory over France, McCaw may be back in a similar position at Eden Park in a month's time, clutching something rather shinier in his giant paws.