Rugby Union

New Zealand Vs France: Review

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One of the big selling points going into this match was the potential for a shock, and boy did we get one. If before the match you said France were going to win, it would have been a surprise, but you might have believed it.

In the Pool stages, the All Blacks had looked decidedly vulnerable. They were dropping balls left and right and generally looking out of sync. It even looked like there might be some indecision about the starting team as so many big players were underperforming. But in the last 20 minutes of the match against Tonga, they claimed their own restart and seemed to finally get the memo that they were in a World Cup.

They kicked on from there and reached new heights. There is no doubt that they are now firm favourites to win the whole competition, and if they keep at this level it might be at a canter. Cutting a long story short they dominated everywhere, but here are the specifics of how they beat the French.

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From the get go, and for all 80 minutes, they got quick ball from the breakdown. This has always been a particular strength of the All Blacks. Every player from one to 15 can ruck effectively. They support so closely and with such pace and numbers that the other team simply can't get into position to compete. As a result, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino were imperious all night; Thierry Dusautoir and Bernad Le Roux largely anonymous.

The speed of the breakdown gave Dan Carter and Ma'a Nonu the platform from which to weave some trademark All Black magic. They both took the ball to the gain line more than they have all tournament which meant the retreating French defensive line could not drift, and if they weren't perfectly aligned then they would break through the middle.

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Once the line was split it was simply the X-Factor we have come to expect that resulted in some sumptuous tries. When Julian Savea went over for his first of three, there were four more black shirts running in wide channels waiting to support.

In the second half, Kieran Read finally played the way he did when he became IRB World Player Of The Year. When he lopes freely in the wide channels, you needn't assess the situation, you should merely expect a try. So frequently he takes the ball with Savea drawing the attention on his outside, and the constant inside options are put through a hole. When they hit their stride, it didn't matter who was in what position, they would have options on both sides running from depth that made it impossible to defend.

All Blacks' complete performance

In previous rounds, New Zealand have shown flashes of their simple handling and straight running lines, but more often than not the machine broke down and they relied on individuals to build the breathing space on the scoreboard. Their quarter-final was the complete performance, as individuals stood out, and all filled their roles.

Brodie Retallick was his monstrous best, heavily involved in the general workload before charging down and gathering for his own score. He and his partner Sam Whitelock turned over ball from the lineout, and the front five as a unit stood up to the scrum much better than expected; although the first one didn't come until the 33rd minute due to the precise handling.

Jerome Kaino had his best game for several months, repeatedly getting over the gain line, and Nonu was inspired showing his strength on several occasions but also his tools as complete centre. He kicked when it was the best option, and if carrying wasn't on for him, he shipped it wide.

Nakaitaci back to rampaging best

And when it got wide there was the issue of either Nehe Milner-Skudder's quite phenomenal footwork or Savea's power. He has seemed reluctant until now to use his "Lomu-esque" qualities, but once he put his foot down he stole the show. Noa Nakaitaci looked like he didn't want to be there all night, but when he brushed off Scott Spedding you realised he was back to his rampaging best.

As if that roll call wasn't enough, they then brought on the bench with the likes of Beauden Barrett who showed his incredible pace, and Sonny Bill Williams who couldn't help but ship at least one highlight reel offload.

In the first five minutes it looked worrying from a French perspective that they might not be able to compete with this New Zealand side. After about half an hour, the contest was, in effect, over. After the 65th minute they had eclipsed the previous record for a quarter-final winning margin of 28 by South Africa against Western Samoa in 1995. By the end it was the most astonishing rout in knockout rugby history.

It was only a Nonu fumble - after one of the best all-round performances of his illustrious career - that prevented it from becoming the biggest score of the tournament. It wasn't just a statement performance, it was a spoiler: 'New Zealand are going to win the World Cup'.

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Topics:
France Rugby
New Zeland Rugby
Rugby Union
IRB Rugby World Cup

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